Veterans Remember WWII
Interviewee: Twenty-one Nevada World War II veterans
Interviewers: Ken Adams, Victoria Ford, R. T. King, Noriko Kunitomi
UNOHP Catalog #165
World War II was the most violent convulsion in human history. May it forever hold that distinction. Fifty-seven
nations were among the belligerents, but the major cost of the conflict was borne by just five Allied and three Axis
powers. Combined, these eight combatants lost fifteen million men killed in battle; civilian casualties were even
higher. For the United States the price of victory was over 290,000 lives, or approximately one of every 450 Americans.
In the end, Fascism and Japanese expansionism were crushed, defeated by a remarkable alliance between the forces
of democratic capitalism and totalitarian communism.
Most literate adults have a good understanding of the strategic unfolding of the conflict, of the great battles and
how they relate to one another. War Stories will add nothing to that understanding. It offers another dimension.
Fifty years since Allied victory, here is World War II as remembered by twenty-one Americans who experienced it.
This is war on a personal level. Surviving combat, enduring captivity, dealing with wounds and with the death of
comrades, avoiding friendly fire, accumulating points toward discharge—these are recurrent themes. Another theme,
powerful and always present, but never clearly articulated, is individual heroism. Personal narratives celebrating
heroic achievement are the bedrock of oral tradition, the foundation for the type of epic poetry that arises only in
pre-literate societies, but has often found its fullest expression in great works of literature. Clearly, the recollections
presented here are not literary, but they carry the virtues of classic oral tradition: they are moving evocations of the
defining experience of a generation, dealing with themes of historical, national and moral significance.
Since these are personal narratives, in their particulars the stories vary as widely as individual human experience.
They share only a tenuous connection: each is told by one who was there. Arranged in no particular order, because
they would fit into none, the stories may be read in any sequence, but all should be read. Combined, they present a
vivid picture of military service during the only war this country has fought without reservation and with certainty
that its cause was just. Each story is illustrated with photos from the personal collections of the veterans.
Veterans Remember WW II
Edited by R.T. King
with editorial assistance by Victoria Ford,
from oral history interviews by Ken Adams
University of Nevada
Oral History Program
Publication of War Stories was made possible in part by a grant from the John
Ben Snow Trust.
University of Nevada Oral History Program
Reno Nevada, 89557
Copyright 1995 by the University of Nevada Oral History Program.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data:
Data available from the publisher, Oral History Program, Mail Stop 324, University
of Nevada, Reno, Nevada, 89557. Tel: 800/227-4551.
Production Manager: Margene Foster
Senior Production Assistant: Linda J. Sommer
Production Assistants: Kimberly S. Goddard, Danny K. Howard
“Each Sunrise is a Bonus”
Don Dondero 1
“Outside of War and Food, We Didn’t Have Too Much”
Jack Streeter 13
“I Was Sent to Ely, If You Can Believe That!”
Arthur M. Smith, Jr. 21
“But to Gregor and Me, What Did it Matter?”
Janice Duncan Goodhue 29
“A Great Ring of Fire”
Benedict J. Dasher 37
“Especially on May 21st”
Mark Curtis 43
“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This Kind of Brutality”
Ralph Levenberg 57
“The Surf Turned Red”
Charles Harton 71
“You Just Met One Who Does Not Know How to Cook”
Zelda Anderson 81
Link Piazzo 87
“When Patton Showed Up
“We Nisei Were Americans”
Roy Nishiguchi 111
“Then the Whiskey Started to Come in Handy”
Clarence Becker 117
“Put the WASPs on It”
Hazel Hohn 125
“ . . . and I’m Wondering What John Wayne Would Do.”
Gene Evans 133
“I Stood Up, and a Sniper Picked Me Off.”
John C. Lancaster, Jr. 141
“Either Kill or Be Killed”
Francis William Farr 147
“The Enemy’s Hiding Too”
Santino Oppio 161
“Sort of the Governor”
Grant Sawyer 167
“ . . . All Gone the Moment I Entered Buchenwald”
Jud Allen 171
“We Weren’t Taking Any Prisoners, and Neither Were They”
Richard Sorenson 175
World War II was the most violent convulsion in human history. May it forever
hold that distinction. Fifty-seven nations were among the belligerents, but the
major cost of the conflict was borne by just five Allied and three Axis powers.
Combined, these eight combatants lost fifteen million men killed in battle;
civilian casualties were even higher. For the United States the price of victory
was over 290,000 lives, or approximately one of every 450 Americans. In the
end, Fascism and Japanese expansionism were crushed, defeated by a remark¬
able alliance between the forces of democratic capitalism and totalitarian com¬
Most literate adults have a good understanding of the strategic unfolding of
the conflict, of the great battles and how they relate to one another. War Stories
will add nothing to that understanding. It offers another dimension. Fifty years
since Allied victory, here is World War II as remembered by twenty-one Ameri¬
cans who experienced it. This is war on a personal level. Surviving combat,
enduring captivity, dealing with wounds and with the death of comrades, avoid¬
ing friendly fire, accumulating points toward discharge — these are recurrent
themes. Another theme, powerful and always present, but never clearly articu¬
lated, is individual heroism. Personal narratives celebrating heroic achievement
are the bedrock of oral tradition, the foundation for the type of epic poetry that
arises only in pre-literate societies, but has often found its fullest expression in
great works of literature. Clearly, the recollections presented here are not liter¬
ary, but they carry the virtues of classic oral tradition: they are moving evoca¬
tions of the defining experience of a generation, dealing with themes of histori¬
cal, national and moral significance.
Since these are personal narratives, in their particulars the stories vary as
widely as individual human experience. They share only a tenuous connection:
each is told by one who was there. Arranged in no particular order, because they
would fit into none, the stories may be read in any sequence, but all should be
read. Combined, they present a vivid picture of military service during the only
war this country has fought without reservation and with certainty that its cause
was just. Each story is illustrated with photos from the personal collections of
the veterans. (Several vets had only the scantiest photographic record of their
years in service. As one put it, “We were fighting a war, not photographing it.”)
R. T. King
As with each of the UNOHPs preceding publications, War Stories is the
product of a collaboration. Over a period of two months in the summer of
1995, Ken Adams and Vikki Ford interviewed forty-three veterans of World
War II. To these interviews were added two previously done by me and one
conducted by Noriko Kunitomi. Twenty-one of the interviews eventually were
selected to be reconstructed in first-person narrative form for inclusion in this
book. Lightly edited transcripts of all forty-three will be added to the UNOHP
collection, and copies will be placed in the university libraries in Reno and Las
The verbatim transcripts of the twenty-one interviews from which War Sto¬
ries was composed totaled over 1800 pages, and they were difficult to read and
understand in their raw form. Oral discourse can be practically impenetrable
when represented in print: empty of gesture, inflection, tone, and other nu¬
ances that go unrecorded on tape, or for which there are no symbols on the
keyboard, transcripts are full of fractured syntax, false starts, repetition, and
general disorder. To make them easier for me to work with, Vikki Ford per¬
formed a valuable first edit of fourteen of the transcripts, Jeanne Harrah bring¬
ing the remainder through this difficult process. From these refined transcripts
I then composed the stories in the voices of the veterans. Its oral origins not¬
withstanding, in general the text reads like that of any other book, but the
reader will encounter some unconventional devices that are employed to repre¬
sent elements in the dynamic of spoken language: [laughter] appears when a
veteran laughs in amusement or to express irony; other bracketed information
reveals the unspoken emotion that drives some passages; and ellipses are used
not to indicate that material has been deleted, but that a statement is being
made haltingly... or there is a pause for dramatic effect.
Copies of the tape recordings of the interviews are housed in the Oral His¬
tory Program of the University of Nevada, where they can be heard by appoint¬
ment. Each veteran has read the finished manuscript of his or her story and
affirmed in writing that it accurately interprets the content of the interview
from which it is drawn. However, as with all oral histories, while the UNOHP
can vouch for the authenticity of War Stories , it does not claim that the recollec¬
tions upon which the book is based are entirely free of error.
R. T. KING
University of Nevada
“Each Sunrise is a Bonus”
Don Dondero is a native Nevadan, born in
Ely on January 31, 1920. When Don was
six, his family moved to Carson City. He
graduated from Carson High School in 1937,
and studied journalism at the University of
Nevada until the war broke out:
M Y DRAFT NUMBER was so high, I
figured they’d be sending women
and children before they sent me. But when
war was declared, zap: “You’re 1A.” We all
thought that if you’re drafted, you receive basic training, you go overseas, and
you’re killed — one, two, three, four. So the urgency to join up before being
drafted, have some control over your destiny, was pretty heavy. It was winter¬
time, and I drove over Donner Summit in some pretty hairy weather to enter
the Navy V-5 program. In V-5 you eventually became a cadet and took the
After introductory basic training at Oakland, we went to Corpus Christi,
Texas, for nine months of serious flight training. I got along fine, except for
little things. Mornings I had to wait for five guys to get ready before the six of us
could march over to the dining hall. Well, in my mind that was ridiculous, so I
got caught going over there by myself and got two hours on the ramp and one
week’s restrictions. All the guys who had committed some sort of an indiscre¬
tion marched back and forth behind the administration building where they
had lanes, and I ran into pretty much the same guys all the time. You’d pass a
guy going one way and say something, then you’d pass him going the other
way, and he’d reply. You’d have a conversation, but it would move really slow
and give you a lot of time to think. Even the day before I graduated I was
marching time on the ramp.
We all started flying the same thing, what they called N3Ns — those yellow
biplanes. During basic, you flew a little heavier plane. We also practiced flying
in a Link trainer, which is like a little plane that sits on a box. It has a deal that
draws your course, so your instructor can see what you’re doing. That was mad¬
dening mentally, because the enlisted men were instructors, and they didn’t
much care what we did. There was a lot of horsing around. You could hold the
wing on your buddy’s Link trainer, and he couldn’t turn. Then there’s a screw
on the side to simulate rough air. You could unscrew that, and the thing would
be bouncing around like it was in heavy wind, and guys would do that to their
friends. You might be simulating coming in for a landing, and all of a sudden
you’re in a spin, [laughter]
After that, we specialized, and I went to advanced dive bomb training. We
learned that ideally you go in at seventy degrees, dive on the target, drop your
bomb, pull out and go home. (You’re supposed to pull out between two thou¬
sand and fifteen hundred feet, but in actual combat, when you see those little
red blobs of anti-aircraft fire floating up toward you, you have a tendency to
pull out a little early.) We were taught that when attacking a naval target, the
fighters were supposed to go in and strafe the enemy ship’s anti-aircraft em¬
placements. Next, we dive bombers would come in and give the target a hard
time. Then the torpedo bombers would come in and finish it off. That was the
theory. What really happened in combat was, the fighters didn’t get the anti¬
aircraft guys. We’d go in and have plenty of anti-aircraft to face. Then the poor
torpedo bombers come in at a low angle to drop their torpedoes, and they got a
good ration of anti-aircraft; fire. There was quite a difference between theory
and actual practice, [laughter]
After a year of flight training, including carrier landings on Chesapeake Bay,
I went to Rhode Island and joined Bombing Squadron 42 aboard the U.S.S.
Ranger. I was nervous and a little afraid, unsure of what it was all about. You
work toward going with a fleet and joining a squadron, but here are a bunch of
guys that have been together for ages, and you’re the new guy. It’s like kids
changing schools — pretty soon you get to know some of the guys and check
out in a plane, and then you’re one of the gang.
Our squadron had thirty planes and forty pilots, and we flew once every
couple of days. In the Atlantic, we didn’t encounter many enemies. The ship
went to Newfoundland, where we flew anti-sub missions, and it was a big joke.
(Some pilots would spot a whale, and they’d drop a depth charge; they had
special designations for guys like that.) It was very boring, flying in a set pattern
to check the area as the ship goes forward. When we weren’t flying, the bore¬
dom was also pretty heavy; but still, you’re in the game. You do things, any-
Each Sunrise is a Bonus’
thing to break the monotony. Once we signed all the books in the ship’s library,
“From the author to the gang on the Ranger .” That took a little time, [laughter]
They had phones for communication within the ship, so sometimes a guy would
call up and say, “We got to go get the beer. The gals are bringing the sand¬
wiches, and they’ll be by in about a half hour.” Just kidding around.
Mail was really an important element, so I wrote to a lot of people hoping I’d
get replies. I wrote to Liz (later my wife), Dorothy Hammer, Helen Murphy,
and some of the guys I knew that were in different branches in the service. I also
subscribed to the Carson City Daily Appeal That went over big with those Ivy
league guys from the east coast, but the hell with them, [laughter] You always
tried to get some mail, even if it was just a letter from the American Legion
telling you what a great deal it would be for you to join when you got out. It
was mail. My mother was really heavy on writing, so I enjoyed that. She’d keep
me up on what was happening, what some of my friends were doing, and she
sent me gifts at Christmas.
We had a great vacation in the Atlantic, but it was all over when we went to
the Pacific. It took us six days to sail to Hilo, Hawaii from San Diego, where we
practiced more on our new Curtiss Helldivers before we went to Saipan and
picked up the Bunker Hill. We had to stay on Saipan for a couple of weeks, and
here was a lot of drinking going on. We would go to the bar, and they wouldn’t
sell you just one beer — it had to be a case! We’d have a table with friends and
drink beer until it was all gone.
On Saipan, they issued us helmets, and we lived in tents and learned how to
use the water. You took a helmet full of water, and you have to do it in the right
order or it could be unpleasant. First thing, you brush your teeth with the
water; then you wash your face in it and shave. We were also introduced to a
type of margarine that wouldn’t melt. In the tropics, ordinary butter would be
liquid, but this stuff — you could put a blow torch onto it, and it wouldn’t
We went into action in September, 1944.1 had gone to aerial reconnaissance
photo school when we were changing planes, so I hustled the ship’s photogra¬
pher and said, “Let my gunner carry a camera.” He had a little gun back there
that was about as effective as throwing rocks, but he also shot pictures. We’d get
back and develop them, and they made one set for the ship, one for the air
group, and one for me. I had some great action pictures. But one day I didn’t
come back, and when you got shot down, they just packed all your stuff and
sent it to Clearfield, Utah, where they took what they wanted and then sent it
Curtiss Helldivers flying out of Cecil Field. Don Dondero pilots No. 56.
on to your folks. They got my photos.
One thing that really made me feel important was when I was flying anti-sub
and spotted what looked like a fifty-gallon drum. I phoned it in, and the whole
goddamned task force made a turn .. . and the size of that group of ships was
just enormous! They sent a destroyer out, and it exploded the depth charge.
That’s about as big as a guy from Carson City can get!
We took off in squadrons of fifteen planes, usually fighters first, and when
the ships were underway in the daytime, fighters patrolled for any enemy. As we
taxied before takeoff, if the engine didn’t sound right the pilot would shut it
down. When this happened during an attack, the pilot and the gunner would
climb out of the disabled plane and they’d just push it over the side, because
they had to get it out of the way to keep everybody coming. By the time we got
up, enemy aircraft were practically nil; and if any did show up, the fighters were
racing each other to get to them.
My first attack, I dove on a destroyer. When I came back to the ship I told
them it was a cruiser, because I didn’t figure a destroyer could have that many
Each Sunrise is a Bonus”
guns! That’s from being a new guy — you’re excited like that. It seemed like
we’d attack every weekend. You’d wake up, and the ship would be headed east,
which would be away from all that crap. Saturday morning you’d wake up, and
the ship was steaming full bore back toward the Philippines for another attack.
When I looked around the ready room after each attack, I’d see we’d lost a
couple of guys. I’m an odds player, and I didn’t like the odds. I figured, “Hell,
maybe in twenty days, it will be all new faces in here.” Well, it didn’t work quite
that way, because the new guys would get shot down, too. Chester Knozek, my
gunner, and I didn’t fly too many missions together — I’d say five — because
they hit me early. It was a standard deal. There were ships in Manila Bay, and we
dove on shipping. About half way down I got hit at about five thousand feet. I
was coming down at a seventy degree angle . . . supposedly seventy. (It’s never
seventy; if the wind’s, right, it can be ninety.) I got hit in the wing, and I took
one underneath the engine, but I continued with my dive. I thought, “Those
dirty .... I’m going to do it to somebody.” I dropped my bomb, but there was
a little fire burning over where they had punctured my gas tank, and the con¬
trols weren’t quite right; you can tell.
I pulled out at about two thousand, and something hot came up and hit me
in the face. I called back, “It’s getting too hot in here. Let’s go over the side.”
Hell, I looked back, and of Chester was already gone, [laughter] He must have
been sitting there with one foot on the edge. They say dive toward the wing,
but it looks like you’re going to run right into the tail. The directions the Navy
gave you amounted to some pipe dream from an intelligence officer in Wash¬
ington: they sounded great, but in actual practice, man, you’re busy and you’re
going down pretty fast. I unhooked my safety belt, and all I had to do was stand
up and I was gone.
They always said to have your parachute straps tight, which I never did,
because my back got to hurting toward the end of a flight and I’d be squirming
around a lot. They also said, “What you do after you hit the water is open this
thing and undo the legs, and sit there, and then you pop your Mae West,” but
I popped my Mae West before I hit the water. We never had any training with
the parachute at all, except to pull that thing.
The pilot had a rubber raft as part of his parachute pack. The gunner didn’t
have anything, because he had to get out past his gun. So we had a one-man
raft, me and Chester. I was heavier, so after I collected him I sat in the back, and
he sat leaning up against me. The Japs put out small boats to pick us up, but
every time they put out a boat, our fighters would come in and strafe it. They
tried twice, and then they quit. Meantime, we were floating toward the mouth
of Manila Bay. I was glad to be alive and on the water, but I also felt it was a hell
of a long ways from Carson City, and I’d be lucky if I ever got back.
We were not looking at the big picture, just doing what we had to do in
order to survive at this instant right here. Seaweed was floating all over from the
bombing attack, and we pulled some over our yellow raft. A snake curled out of
the seaweed, so we both tucked our pants in our socks and continued on. [laugh¬
ter] We had no food, but we did have water which we were using very sparingly,
because the water cans were only half full. And since we didn’t have any ciga¬
rettes, I thought this was a great opportunity for me to quit smoking, [laughter]
The weather was beautiful, just perfect, clear. I got so sunburned . . . even my
eyelids. Every place that salt water rubbed against my skin got a sore, like my
pant legs rubbing up against my leg.
We were at the mercy of the tides. We took turns rowing with the paddles,
but we floated past Corregidor and out into the China Sea. We headed south¬
west toward another island. We thought the best bet was to get the hell away
from Luzon, because our intelligence guys had said it was just lousy with Japs.
When we’d take a break, we had a blue tarp we could pull over the raft, so it
wouldn’t be too obvious.
We floated for two days and two nights. Suddenly, in the middle of the third
afternoon, some kind of fish came up and cut big holes in the bottom of our
raft. I hit it with my fist, but by then the goddamned holes were in the raft, and
then we were swimming. We lost our pistols; I had a thirty-eight. It was a long
ways to shore, but we had our Mae Wests on, and we swam until after dark and
finally made land. When we got close to land, we agreed to be quiet and go in,
because we didn’t know whether we were going into a Jap camp or what. That’s
the last I saw of Chester until Hawaii, because he swam into a different inlet
than I did. Later, he said he looked all over hell for me, and I looked all over for
him, because, man . . . this is a time when you really need company!
That night I pulled up on the beach and emptied my shoes, took off my Mae
West and kind of half-heartedly buried it. I was getting a little goofy. It’s night,
and it’s dark, and when I look up at the sky, I see spotlights in a lattice-work
pattern. Then some guy from my squadron comes down and says, “The BOQ
is up on the hill. They haven’t finished it yet, but it isn’t bad.” I was seeing
things, so I just crapped out on the beach and slept.
In the morning, I saw the beach was deserted. I looked around for Chester,
but I didn’t think of going beyond the other edge of this little rang beach, as the
“Each Sunrise is a Bonus'
Filipinos called it. I climbed to the top of the hill, and it was all jungle as far as
I could see, so I went back down to the beach; and now I’m getting thirsty,
because there’s no water. That thirst gets to you. I didn’t miss the food, but
man, that thirst was .... In the survival book, it said go at least fifteen feet
above the high water mark and dig a well: “The water will be brackish, but it
will be OK.” So I dug a well and drank some of the water. Then I threw up. I
drank some more, and threw up a second time. This time there was a little
blood in it, so I decided that water wasn’t quite what we’d been looking for, and
I tried chewing on roots. That’s damn unsatisfying, and by now I was one thirsty
Some Filipinos went by in a boat, spotted me and pulled in on shore. By now
I’m spooky, so I ran up this little creek bed and ducked off to one side in the
heavy jungle. These guys weren’t very good at tracking, and they went straight
up that little creek bed. [laughter] They were hollering, “Hey, American!” The
guys in suits and the guys that were rowing were raising their hands with fingers
extended, and I thought, “Jesus, those guys are flipping me off! This is bad
news.” [laughter] I found out later that that’s the way Filipinos wave to each
other. Christ, if I had known that, I would have been one day closer to home.
Instead I hid, and they finally left.
The next morning the thirst was really getting to me. At dawn I saw a boat
with three Filipinos going by. I yelled, “Hey, Filipinos!” They just went on by,
and I thought, “Oh Christ, now they’ll have the whole Jap army down here.”
But they did a U-turn and came back. Now I’m spooky again. I had a club, and
as they came up I was backing up the side of the hill. I figured if I had to, I’d
give them battle, [laughter] But they were friendly and buddy-buddy, so I gave
one my wristwatch, and I gave another guy eighty cents that I had in my pocket.
That’s all I could do. They lopped the top off a green coconut, and I drank that
coconut milk. Whoosh .... Jesus, it was great! You can’t believe what a deal it
is to have something to drink after all that time without it!
With my new-found friends, I got in their boat and they laid a plank over me
so the Japs wouldn’t see me. We met up with a lot of other Filipino fishermen.
They took pyramid-shaped shellfish, and after throwing them in the fire to
cook, they popped the end off on a rock and then sucked the snail or whatever
out. I learned to do that. Then an old guy handed me an egg. I had never
sucked an egg, and the thought of it almost made me sick; but he handed it to
me as though it was a challenge, so I sucked the egg. It was all good food.
I went back to their village, called Patungan, and we joined up with a guy
who was hired by the Americans to bring flyers back. From then on we walked
at night and hid in the daytime. We slept in chicken coops, which were down at
the far end of the farmers’ fields where nobody would come. After three or four
nights we walked to the southern end of Luzon and caught a coconut boat
across to Mindoro to the guerilla camp.
Two army sergeants had a weather station there. Every day they would send
up a balloon and watch it with their instruments. They’d radio the weather into
MacArthur’s headquarters, and they’d also include the number of guys that had
been picked up. The American guy who ran the camp, a lieutenant commander,
was an intelligence “plant” who lived with the guerrillas. They used to bring
money in to him on subs, and he had so much money that he bought a fleet of
Filipino boats. He and his men looked for downed pilots and collected intelli¬
gence on what the Japs were doing. The guerrillas would also do hit-and-run
attacks. If the Japs sent a small group of guys anyplace away from their main
group, the guerrillas would nail them. They’d also attack the sentries, because
they were real good underground fighters. There was a lot of worry that the Japs
might come in some night and attack our camp, because they knew where we
were. I had a carbine with one of those big clips, and I slept with that in a
There was a girl at camp who stayed there, and we’d swim on the beach and
ride the waves. By this time I’m with five other guys who have also been shot
down, and we’d invent ways to kill time. Crab racing was one. We’d dig a hole
in the sand, and each of us would pick one of those little sand crabs and throw
it in the hole, and then they’d all race to climb out and the first crab out won.
We’d bet cigarettes on the races and card games — didn’t have any dough or
anything. We just whiled away the time. It was pretty comfortable. The camp
commander had the key to all the chow. He liked to play bridge, and I was a
lousy player, but I had to play bridge with him every night, because when we
got through playing we’d all have hot chocolate. I played totally for the hot
A guy named Bill Dodson was the head of our group, because he was the
toughest guy in it. He would fight or run a foot race, and only if somebody
came along who could beat him would they get to be head hog. That was the
kind of military organization I understood! I hung around with him a lot, be¬
cause I figured this was a good guy to know. When I’d beat him at cards, he’d
say, “One of these days I’m going to kill you,” and he had a real ice-cold way of
“Each Sunrise is a Bonus’
“One ofthe guys was an artist. I got him to paint my insignia and a picture of
a gorilla on my flight jacket. I still have the jacket. ”
At five o’clock we’d listen to the news on the short-wave, and finally it said
the Navy had invaded Mindoro at the south end of the island. PT boats came
and picked us up, and on the way back, here comes a Jap plane. He made every
mistake in the book. It was right at dawn, and rather than come out of the sun,
he came out of the dark side, so he was easy to spot. They shot him down.
Scared the hell out of me, but I had a great admiration for those PT guys.
After we changed out of Filipino clothes into American dungarees, we headed
for Hawaii, then got orders back to the states. We stayed in the Mark Hopkins
Hotel in San Francisco. Every day we’d go over to the Navy base in Alameda —
no orders, go back and pursue liberty. San Francisco is probably the best liberty
town in the United States, so it was just a lot of fun. I also went to Carson City
on survivor’s leave and married Liz. She went with me when I was assigned to
Jacksonville, where I was an operational instructor. After that, no sweat . . .
that was it. The war ended in Europe, and it eventually ended in Japan. If we
had invaded Japan, I would have been one of the guys to go, so the A-bomb
probably saved my country ass!
I was stationed in Florida for a few months before I got out of the service. I
was Mr. Ordinary. I had the exact number of points, plus I had a DFC (Distin¬
guished Flying Cross), known among flyers in the Pacific as the “Aviator’s Good
Conduct Medal” and a license to get out. I had so many friends die and get
killed in airplanes that I had a bad feeling about it and wasn’t too gung-ho to fly
anymore. After the war I flew little Piper Cubs around Carson, but that was all.
In those days we didn’t have this “post traumatic stress syndrome.” The only
advice people gave us when we got out of the Navy was to get a job. Looking
back, I realize I wasn’t quite right. We got drunk a lot and raised hell, and slowly
that helped you come back. When you’ve been putting your can on the line
every day, you adopt a “don’t give a damn” attitude, and I had to get over that.
It was like we had been driving a jeep a hundred miles an hour, and everybody
said that’s the right way to do it; then suddenly the war’s over, and you want us
to put on the brakes and change. But you can’t just change right off and be¬
come a solid citizen. We raised a lot of hell, and some guys got killed. Car
wrecks got two of the guys that were with me in the Philippines.
Since the day I got shot down, I’ve been living on borrowed time. I damn
near got it, so I just feel lucky to be here. If you haven’t faced death one time,
you don’t really appreciate what life is — that each sunrise is a bonus.
“Each Sunrise is a Bonus’
Following the war Don Dondero began a career in professional photography that
brought him many honors, including being the official photographer for the 1960
Winter Olympics. He is now “semi-retired, ” but his work remains in demand and
continues to be published and reprinted.
“Outside of War and Food, We Didn’t
Have Too Much”
Jack Streeter was raised in Sparks, Nevada,
and graduated from Sparks High in 1939.
His classmates voted him “most Likely to suc¬
ceed. ” Streeter went on to the University of
Nevada, where he participated in ROTC, was
a brother in the Sigma Nu Fraternity, and
won the Pacific Coast Golden Gloves boxing
championship in the light heavy-weight di¬
vision. He graduated in May of1943:
A BOUT TWENTY of us entered the service immediately after graduation and
went to OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia for ninety days. After we received
our commissions as second lieutenants. Gene Francovich, Mario Recanzone,
and I came back home on leave, and Mario got married. Then the three of us
and Mario’s bride drove in Francovich’s car from Reno to Fort McClellan, Ala¬
bama. It took about three days, driving day and night, so we spent the Recanzone
honeymoon on the highway.
At Ft. McClellan I served as a training officer for a while, but I was anxious
to get overseas. Finally I got my orders, and soon boarded a troop ship that was
part of a convoy going from the east coast to Northern Ireland. The crossing
took about two and a half weeks, because we had to dodge U-boats all the way
— they sank five or six ships from our convoy. And the weather was very bad,
pitching our ship around: from the deck you’d sometimes look down a hundred
feet, then all of a sudden you were looking up at a hundred-foot wall of water.
Many of the soldiers on board were seasick, and we were cramped and crowded,
so it got kind of sloppy.
From Northern Ireland I went into the 18th Infantry Regiment, First Infan¬
try Division, commanding a platoon. Six months training followed. We knew
we were preparing for an invasion of Europe, but we didn’t know where, and
In transit to Ft. Benning, University of Nevada graduates go to war. Jack
Streeter and eight friends pose for a St. Louis photographer. Streeter is at lower
left, Nick Mastrovich lower right. Seated l. to r. are Willie Etchemendy, Mario
Recanzone, and Gene Francovich (KIA). Standing l. to r. are Pete Echeverria,
Deane Quilici (KIA), Warren Salmon, and Cliff Young.
“Outside of War and Food, We Didn’t Have Too Much’
we didn’t know when it would come until they moved us from our barracks to
the seashore to board the boats two or three days before the invasion. There
they had a huge room with a sponge rubber map of the Normandy beaches
built to scale — you could walk around on the map, it was so large. They
brought in the officers and some of the noncoms so we could get a feel for
where we were going to be. They said, “Here’s where you’re landing; and here’s
where the cliffs, the pill boxes, the trenches, and the German gun emplace¬
ments are.” We were going in on Easy Red, Omaha Beach.
The 16th was the assault regiment, and they hit the beach on June 6 at 6:30
a.m. My battalion was supposed to be in reserve, but things were so messed up
that we went in right after the 16th. They brought us right up to the beach in
the assault craft and dropped us off in shallow water. We were being fired on all
the way in, and the boat on our right got blown out and went down a hundred
feet from shore. The boat on our left beached just before us, and when they
dropped the ramp, tracers came in on it from all over and nobody got off alive.
We landed on a rocky stretch of beach, which made the shells worse than if
we had landed in sand. When the shells came in, they made twice the shrapnel,
because they broke up the rocks. Some of the guys in my platoon already had
combat experience — they had landed in North Africa and Sicily — and when
we waded ashore, they forged ahead. Of course, it didn’t take any brains to
realize that if you’re on a beach where shells are landing and blowing everybody
apart, you have to get off that beach! You can’t go back in the water, so you must
Right ahead of us was a field rising from the beach toward a mountain — it
was 150 yards across, with barbed wire and trenches and Germans. And then
the pill boxes started on up this hill — concrete gun emplacements. We blew
Germans out of their pill boxes with bangalore torpedoes, which we stuck
through the gun slits. By dark we had gotten to the top of the hill, but a third
of the men in my platoon had been wounded.
Once the Army secured the beach, we had to fight through hedgerow coun¬
try to get further inland, and then our First Division led the Saint Lo break¬
through. The morning of the breakthrough there was a huge bombing raid
against the German positions. What a mess! Behind our lines I saw the path¬
finder bomber drop a smoke bomb, and I yelled, “Boys, head for the trenches.”
On a hill a mile in back of us were General McNair and his entourage. They
killed some of them; bombed them because of a mistake. Started bombing way
back, and then went right through us and then on to the Germans.
We didn’t pay much attention to news of the war. We knew if we won a
battle, but the specifics we didn’t pay that much attention to, because you’re
really only concerned about what you and the little outfit that you’re connected
with are going to do for the next day or two. We got Stars and Stripes once a
month, but that didn’t mean much — the people in the rear were the only ones
who had time to read and digest it. Like those USO shows . . . that was for
them, not for us. What we were going to do the next day was what was impor¬
tant; nothing else makes any difference. If you started worrying about some¬
thing outside of doing your duty, then you would have problems, and I always
felt it was the responsibility of the officers to make sure that the men did their
duty. I think some of the men would have shot themselves through the foot to
get sent to the rear and avoid combat. You’d have to say, “The first guy who
shoots himself through the foot, shoot him through the head!” That takes care
of that problem.
When we were outside of Aachen, I took a couple of soldiers with me through
the German lines. We were in the area where the professors and doctors lived,
and they had terrific wine cellars. The boys from the regimental headquarters
said, “Jack, if you get a chance, get some wine.” So I picked up some wine, but
being in front-line infantry, the thought of drinking it didn’t even cross my
mind. You had to keep alert. Make sure your clips are full and you have enough
to eat, but you don’t party. No time for souvenir hunting, like the guys in the
We were fighting Germans who were trying to get out of Aachen, and fight¬
ing more Germans trying to break through with tanks to rescue them or to
bolster their defenses. After about a week, Aachen fell, and we were pulled out
of the line for a brief rest. Then we went into combat again in the Huertgen
Forest, which was probably the bloodiest battle ground for the First Division in
the whole war. The Huertgen Forest is a small area, maybe ten miles by six
miles. When the artillery would hit, it would cause tree bursts, and there was
no protection for the infantry. No trenches.
We had cold weather and snow and rain and mud and freezing temperatures
in the Huertgen Forest. Made it a miserable place to fight. And we were soaking
wet because of the rain. At least we had plenty of C-rations and ammunition,
but outside of war and food, we didn’t have too much. We were fighting in the
Huertgen Forest on Thanksgiving Day. The brass told us, “The front-line troops
are all going to get turkey sandwiches and pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.”
Well, ours came in one great big bag, so when you reached down, you got a
“Outside of War and Food, We Didn’t Have Too Much”
soggy mixture of turkey sandwich and pumpkin pie by the handful, [laughter]
I went into the Huertgen Forest with 110 men and came out with 35 — the
rest were either dead or wounded. That’s a great turnover, but that’s front-line
infantry for you. And many of those casualties occurred in one day, from shell¬
ing by our own artillery. Morale got a little low when our artillery zeroed in on
us with tree bursts. Bitterly as I complained about this tragedy to the rear ech¬
elon, they just said, “It was a mistake in map coordinates. Forget it and get on
with the war.” I wrote to some of the families, but when you have a lot of
casualties, you can’t be writing everybody; you don’t have enough time.
I was a company commander by this point, but still just a first lieutenant,
and I had been in combat since June 6th. It continues; it becomes a job, mainly.
And you realize that the soldiers on the other side are doing the same thing
you’re doing, under orders the same as you are, so getting mad doesn’t solve
After the Huertgen Forest, we pushed our way up further toward the Ger¬
man border. On December 15th they said the First Division deserved a rest,
because we had been in the front line for over six months, since D-day. But the
next day the Battle of the Bulge started, and they put us right in. They had to,
because they needed combat-wise troops. They put us on the northern border
of the Bulge.
During that forty-five days from the beginning of the Bulge, we were living
out in snow, two or three feet deep, often in zero weather. I rarely got any hot
food. I ate K-rations, and we got one cup of coffee a day if we could make hot
water. There were no houses or basements to crawl into. We were just out in the
middle of nowhere. Our uniforms and boots were never meant for that kind of
cold, and our feet got wet and cold, and a lot of people got trench foot. Others
got sick, but it’s a poor place to get sick, out living in the snow, [laughter]
We were doing a lot of patrol work, and when we stopped, the Germans were
not far away. I had picked up a Thompson submachine gun somewhere along
the way. The weapon of issue was a lousy M-l carbine. It wasn’t worth any¬
thing: wasn’t accurate; didn’t have any power. A lot of enlisted men picked up
Lugers or P-38s, but my Thompson had firepower. You could clean out a trench
with it. [laughter] If you hit somebody with a .45, it was like you threw a
bucket of lead at them, but the Thompson would take an arm off. It had awful,
awesome firepower. One night we had to go out on patrol when the weather
was so cold that my Thompson was the only gun that would fire, but those
German burp guns (machine pistols), they seemed to work all the time.
Throughout 1944-45, enemy resistance depended on the outfit. Regular
German army outfits were really tough, but new, untried outfits that wished
the war was over were fairly easy. They were often willing to give up and be¬
come prisoners. As always, much depended on leadership, who was leading
them. I think my size and boxing experience helped me be a leader. Boxing
teaches you not only to protect yourself, but to take advantage of an opening
when you see it — when you see the other guy drop his left hand, whack him!
Call it killer instinct, but it’s just taking advantage of opportunities.
I was wounded five times, but none was serious, [laughter] On D-day I got
a piece of shrapnel in my leg which is still in there, but I put sulfa powder on
the wound and forgot it. I was shot through the foot once, but the bullet didn’t
even hit a bone. I just put sulfa on it and wrapped it up and limped around for
a couple of days and was all right. I was shot with a spent bullet — went in, hit
the bone and stopped in there. The medic pulled the bullet out and wrapped
the wound. If you wanted to, you could go back behind the lines or you could
stay with your unit; that was an individual decision. I stayed.
When I was wounded after Remagen, that was different.... I was walking
down a country road that was raised maybe eight or ten feet when I heard
Screaming Mimis being launched. They were German rocket-propelled mor¬
tars, like fifty-gallon drums of dynamite, and they screamed like ripping metal
when they were fired from their launchers. I looked up, and I saw two of them
coming. They were screaming, and then they started to drop. I just hit the
deck, and they exploded, one on each side of me. The concussion lifted me off
the road, but I didn’t think too much of it until I started passing a lot of blood
a couple of days later. So I went to the medic, and he said, “You got to get back
to the hospital. There’s no holes in you, so there’s something dramatically wrong.”
At the hospital in Paris, they found that the insides of my kidneys had been
blasted in, and that’s what caused the bleeding. So every morning, the doctors
would take something about as big as a pencil and run it up through my blad¬
der and into my kidneys. They’d look around through that thing and make sure
that blood clots weren’t forming, because then they’d have to take out a kidney.
Eventually everything cleared up, but that was the worst wound I had. It was
really painful. Every day, for about ten days or two weeks, they’d pull that thing
out of me, and the blood would squirt. It was pretty bad. Oh yes, send me back!
[laughter] But then I got hepatitis — I assume from the needles with which
they gave me penicillin shots — and that delayed my return for about a month.
I turned yellow, and my eyes turned yellow.
“Outside of War and Food, We Didn’t Have Too Much”
I was in Paris, just out of the hospital, on VE day. When I rejoined my unit
in Czechoslovakia, in order to get to division headquarters I had to drive through
forty miles of Russian-held territory, where I met various officers and stopped
and partied with them. It was fun. One Russian officer wanted to give me a
suitcase full of Russian invasion scrip, German marks, about three or four mil¬
lion dollars worth at face value; but we didn’t recognize the scrip as legal cur¬
rency, so I didn’t take it. About a month later, we recognized it. [laughter] I
didn’t capitalize on that one.
The Russians were really tough. Their attitude was that we should fight now:
“We’re here. You’re here. Let’s get it on!” One Russian tanker had an arm blown
off, but he was still in the tank; another had an eye out with a patch over the
socket, and he was still in there. Really tough soldiers — not the sharpest troops
in town, but tough and crude.
We were in Czechoslovakia for almost two months, and then we occupied
central Germany. Morale was good, and we were getting ready to be sent home
when they came through waving the flag again and saying, “We want volun¬
teers with combat experience and invasion experience to make the invasion of
Japan.” Some of us volunteered, and I was one of them. So my war wasn’t over
on July 7. [laughter] But on the twelfth and thirteenth of August, we dropped
the atomic bombs, and we knew that the Japanese would surrender. I had enough
points to come home, so I went from Germany to Antwerp, boarded a victory
ship and went across to New York.
I told them that I wanted out of the service, but they said, “You’re still in,
because you volunteered to stay.”
I said, “No, I volunteered to make the invasion of Japan.” We had kind of a
misunderstanding, but eventually I got it straightened out, and I was formally
discharged in December of 1945. There was no more shooting, no more carry¬
ing guns or going out looking for enemy soldiers. That was all finished. I just
went back home and got into the civilian routine.
When I got back to Reno in December, Gordon Rice convinced me I should
go to law school. I heard about Hastings, which is a fine school, and they had a
new course starting in January of 1946 that went straight through the summer
months — you’d graduate in 1948 rather than going three years. The war gave
me the GI Bill of Rights, so I could afford law school, and I signed up. It was
easy. The only thing you had to do was study a couple of hours a day, and that’s
not very long. After being in the front lines for more than six months, nothing
else could really be stressful for the rest of your life, I don’t think.
The World War II generation is a better generation than any we’ve had since.
Ours is not a generation of expectation; we’re a generation of appreciation. We
don’t look for everything to be handed to us, only the opportunity to earn
something. A lot of things have happened during our time, but we are still
patriotic, we believe in family, and there’s a code of decency that our generation
has. I only hope that enough of our attitude can be instilled in our children and
grandchildren so that our philosophy will continue.
In World War II we stopped tyranny: we stopped Hitler and Mussolini and
Japan from running the world. But the war is over; it’s history, and about my
experiences in it, it’s like saying, “Well, when I was twelve years old, I had a bad
toothache.” You don’t remember that the rest of your life, [laughter] My war
was the same: it was a bad scene for a year, but so what? You lived through it.
That’s the important thing, because so many good guys and good friends didn’t.
Jack Streeter is known as “the most decorated Nevada soldier of World War II. ”
Among his many decorations are five Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, andfive Purple
Hearts. Streeter is a successful lawyer who served as District Attorney in Reno from
1951 through 1954. He is active in the community and has helped form organiza¬
tions such as the National and the Nevada State District Attorneys Associations, and
has served as president ofthe World Association of Attorneys. He and his wife, Vera,
have one son, Jackson, who is a lieutenant commander in the Navy and the flight
surgeon for the famed Top Gun squadron.
“I Was Sent to Ely, If You Can Believe That!”
Arthur M. Smith, Jr.
Arthur M. Smith, Jr., grew up in Sparks,
Nevada. Following graduation from high
school in 1940, he studied for two semesters
at the University of Nevada. When war with
Japan broke out. Art was working as a teller
in the Sparks branch of the First National
Bank, trying to save enough money to pay for
aeronautical engineering tuition at the Boeing
School of Aviation:
P earl Harbor ....
My girlfriend, Mary Margaret Car¬
dinal, and I were driving down to
Gardnerville in my V-8 Ford to see her
parents. On the hill south of Washoe Val¬
ley the engine began to rattle and clank,
and then it just quit. A guy stopped to see
if we needed help. I asked him to tell Pozzi’s
Garage to send a wrecker out to tow me in, and while we were waiting, I turned
on the radio. They were announcing that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.
Soon all the guys were being drafted, and everyone in Sparks knew when
your number was up. One Friday Chick Gazin, the head of the draft board,
told me, “Well, you’ll be gone Monday.”
“Oh, yeah,” I said. “I’ll be gone.” I didn’t tell him I had already enlisted in
the Navy Air Corps.
Like a couple of my buddies, I had gone over to Sacramento to join the Army
Air Force; unlike them, I flunked the written test. I didn’t even get to take the
physical! [laughter] So I decided to go Navy, and I just took a train on down to
The Navy aviation selection board was in the Ferry Building, right there on
the bay. I go up to the second floor and take the written exam, and I ace it.
Arthur M. Smith, Jr.
Then they start to give me a physical, and the corpsman says, “You know, if
you’re five-foot-nine, you’ve got to weigh a hundred and twenty-two pounds;
and you only weigh a hundred and twenty-one . . . And I thought, “Jesus,
“Look,” he said, “a street car stops out front. It will take you to Ninth Street,
where there’s a big grocery store. Go in and buy two quarts of milk and six
bananas. At fifteen minutes to one, get on the first street car coming back down
to the Ferry Building, and eat those bananas and drink that milk. When you get
off, come straight upstairs and I’ll weigh you.”
I did what he told me; and when I got on the scales, he said, “You weigh a
hundred and twenty-two and a half. You’re in!”
Not quite. The physical also revealed that I needed surgery to correct a prob¬
lem with breathing through my nose. So the Navy gave me a deferment, and I
got my nose taken care of in Reno; and three months later, back in San Fran¬
cisco again, I enlisted. We all stood and raised our right hands and took the oath
and joined the Navy.
Going into the war, the Navy had thought they might lose as many as twenty-
five thousand pilots. When they found out that they were going to lose closer to
twenty-five hundred, they stretched flight training out, and gave us more and
more classes, and made the experience more and more difficult. I went through
twenty-six months of this! They kept saying that the pilots they were producing
were going to be better trained, better qualified than the guys who were already
out there; but in the end they never needed most of us.
For me, training began in the spring of 1943 with Flight Preparatory School
at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Four hundred of us were in this program,
which gave us three hours of physical training a day and five hours of academ¬
ics. We were the first to enter it. Before, cadets had gone straight to Pre-flight,
and then into flying. Preparatory added six months to your training, and it
enabled the Navy to stockpile large numbers of aviation cadets.
So many fresh recruits were coming in that they didn’t have enough uni¬
forms for us. We would wear slacks and sweaters into town on Sunday to see a
movie, and the soldiers from the fort would taunt us: “Draft dodger! What’s the
matter with you, pal? Chicken shit?” [laughter] And there’s nothing we can do:
no matter what we tell them, they ain’t going to believe us.
After preparatory training I was in a group that was sent to Ely, Nevada, if
you can believe that! We took the Southern Pacific to Cobre, where we got off
and waited for hours on the station platform until a Nevada Northern passen-
“I Was Sent to Ely, If You Can Believe That!
ger train came up to take us down to Ely. We trained there for about three
months, and the situation was pretty relaxed . . . not much discipline. For a
uniform we were issued some “pinks” — khaki pants that they had probably
bought at Penney’s or something. I mean, they just handed them to you and
you wore them, and you wore a black tie.
The Navy had contracted with a guy named Kokendorfer to provide the
flying service. He owned the airplanes, which were Piper Cubs, and he hired
the instructors who taught us to fly. In addition to flight training, we learned
aircraft recognition and “essentials of Naval service,” navigation, math, physics
. . . . Our physical training was led by an old athletic director at Ely High
School named Dan Bledsoe. Hungry Dan .... [laughter] At the University of
Nevada he had been an outstanding high jumper.
We lived in a beat-up old CCC barracks that had been relocated to the field,
and there were communal showers and a mess hall. A Chinaman named Sim
Tom, who owned a restaurant in town, ran the mess hall and gave us our meals.
And there was a little recreation area that had a juke box big as a piano. Jesus, I
will never forget it, because they played the tune so many times — Vaughn
Monroe singing “Fly Me to the Moon.” All night, every night, [laughter]
At Ely I learned to fly an airplane. Before taking me up for the first time, my
instructor asked, “What do you know about flying?”
“I’ve never been in an airplane,” I said.
He just looked at me: “You’ve got to be kidding. How did you get here?”
My instructor was a guy named Marty Kromberg. (After the war he started
an agricultural flight training school out at Stead, and then he had one at
Minden.) Kromberg was a great instructor, and I naturally took to flying. After
only four hours of instruction he told me, “You could solo now, but they won’t
let you.” In those days you were expected to solo at eight hours. If you didn’t,
you might get what they called “captain’s time.” You’d be put with your instruc¬
tor for two more hours; and then you soloed, or you were gone.
My day to solo finally came. Kromberg told me, “Now you’re going up by
yourself. No problem. Just remember that I’m 180 pounds that won’t be in the
airplane this time. It’s going to take off quicker and land slower. Don’t panic
when it doesn’t want to land!” [laughter]
I looked around. I wasn’t used to that front seat, you know, and I looked
around the cockpit; and then I look out and I can see the instructors standing
down there, waiting, watching me. Oh, God! So I give it the gun, and up I go
and make the turns, and I finally get lined up with the runway and start down,
Arthur M. Smith, Jr.
Art Smith soloes. Drawing by George Smitman.
“I Was Sent to Ely, If You Can Believe That!”
and all of a sudden it was like I had forgotten everything I knew .... Just bring
it down on instinct and land the thing in a daze, and they come over and shake
my hand through the open side-screen, and then I taxi the plane up to the
A bunch of cadets was standing around, and Marty yelled, “He just soloed!”
They ran over laughing and shouting, pulled me from the airplane and carried
me across the runway to a fifty-gallon drum filled with water, where they dunked
me. I was elated, but I didn’t go out and celebrate. It was just that....
You know, there’s something that goes on in a war. During World War II, the
military couldn’t handle the sheer volume of enlistees. Everyone wanted to go.
We were mad: we were mad at the Germans; we were mad at the Japanese; we
were just pissed off! A strange, exciting time, but.... December 8, Monday
morning after Pearl Harbor, Benny Garrett and Bill Blake had enlisted in the
Army Air Corps. Suddenly these buddies, two of my best friends, were gone,
on their way; and both of them got killed. Screw it.
After soloing, I stayed on Piper Cubs for another sixty-five, seventy hours.
Now we were doing more precise things. The instructors didn’t say this, but
they were really trying to teach us that an airplane was built to fly, and if you
leave it alone it does a pretty good job all by itself. But you have to make it go
where you want it to go. They’d put you in a cross-wind situation and say, “Go
down that road.” And to do it, you’re just crabbing along, almost flying the
We got to be pretty good fliers. They told us we couldn’t do acrobatics in
those Piper Cubs, but we’d take them up behind Mt. Wheeler where they couldn’t
see us, and loop them and roll them and do all sorts of things, [laughter] Still,
we were just beginners. Over in Tonopah the Army had a squadron of pilots
training on P-39s, which were some airplanes in those days. They’d fly over to
Ely and buzz our field before landing, and then get out and strut around, you
know. We thought, “Oh, Jesus. Look at this.”
Our field was sixty-two hundred feet above sea level, and the performance of
our Cubs was limited — they only had little four-cylinder, seventy-five horse¬
power Continental engines, which were breathing hard at that altitude. Climb¬
ing took time — lots of it. [laughter] If you were going to practice spins, you
took off and climbed for an hour; and then, right over the airport, you spun
your plane and landed it.
Ely’s elevation was so high that in the heat of the day the air wasn’t thick
enough to get much lift off the wings of an airplane. So we’d get up at four
Arthur M. Smith, Jr.
o’clock in the morning and fly until ten, and then we’d goof around and have
lunch before starting our ground school classes. Our flying schedule brought us
up against a Navy rule that aviation cadets had to have eight hours sleep each
night. For us to get eight hours, we had to be in bed by eight o’clock . . . and
hell, there’d still be two hours of light left! So the guys would lie there in bed,
and laugh and joke and talk. No sleeping, but we were in bed.
Sometimes for fun we’d chase jackrabbits at night. Twenty guys, each with a
stick in his hand, would spread out in a line, and we’d run down a jackrabbit in
about two minutes. They won’t run straight; if they did, you couldn’t catch one.
But they’d go to zig-zagging, and when one cut away from you, it’d run right
into another guy.
Weekends, most of us would go into town, but a couple of our instructors
were from Reno, and they’d sometimes fly their planes home. Two of my friends
flew back with them once — at Eureka they landed on the highway and taxied
up to the gas station, filled up, took off, and flew on to Reno. As for me, my
Aunt Vega lived in Ely, and I was a pretty steady boarder at her place on Satur¬
days and Sundays. She was always having a bunch of us in for meals, and we’d
do our drinking in a bar across the street from the Nevada Hotel. Up the road,
McGill was the site of a huge copper smelter, and a big copper pit mine was just
a few miles out of town to the west, at Ruth. Ely was the county seat, but it was
really a miner’s town, just as wide open as you can get. Weekends were fun.
We had about eighty-five hours in Cubs, and then things got serious. After
three months training as aviation cadets at Ely, we were sent to St. Mary’s Col¬
lege in Moraga, California, for what the Navy was then calling Pre-flight. Eigh¬
teen months later, following training at bases in California, Kansas, Illinois,
Texas, and Florida, I returned to Nevada as a torpedo bomber pilot.
When I had graduated from flight school at Corpus Christi, I had thought I
was going to fly fighter planes. But I looked at my orders, and I was assigned to
the naval air station at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for torpedo bomber training.
There I qualified in the massive TBM Avenger, a powerful single-engined tor¬
pedo bomber that was fast and stable at low altitudes, but had heavy controls.
Even though it flew like a truck, it was a very effective airplane. At last I felt that
I was getting close to going to war.
Towards the end of 1944, after qualifying on the TBM, I was transferred
into CASU-6, which was stationed at Alameda, California. CASU stood for
Carrier Air Service Unit — pilots were attached to it pending assignment to an
“I Was Sent to Ely, If You Can Believe That!”
air group. One afternoon early in 1945 my roommate Skinner tells me, “We
got assigned to Air Group 13. It’s been to sea once, and now we’re going to join
it for regrouping and additional training at some goddamned place called Fallon,
Nevada. Have you ever heard of it?”
I said, “That’s only sixty miles from home.”
When we got to Fallon we really went huckley-buckley; we got with it; we
knew we were going overseas from there, and it wouldn’t be long. I was giving
my all, and it paid off. When you regroup, each squadron leader flies with all
his young pilots to decide who’s going to be his wing man, and the skipper of
my squadron, a guy named Ben Williams, picked me. I felt honored. It was
quite a deal.
Much of our time at Fallon was spent practicing bombing and torpedo runs.
For torpedo practice we were using Pyramid Lake, which is on a Paiute Indian
reservation and is Fished by them. Their presence didn’t matter. Hell, we were at
war! There wasn’t any of the commotion you’d have today .... I mean, if we
wanted to use their lake, go get it. Right? But our torpedo runs were done from
the center of the lake north, to stay well clear of the town of Nixon down on the
Our practice runs served a dual purpose: When you dropped a torpedo in
combat in World War II, it wasn’t on its maiden voyage; it had had ten drops
before it ever got there. This was because early in the war the Navy had a lot of
trouble with torpedoes. After they were launched they’d go straight to the bot¬
tom, or they’d surface and run erratically; one submarine even sunk itself. To
get the bugs out of the things before they were sent to the fleet, the Navy began
having each torpedo dropped nine times, with factory overhauls after the third,
sixth, and ninth drops. If a torpedo was still running hot, straight, and normal,
it was then sent to ordnance, filled full of torpex, and taken out to the fleet.
For practice drops, our torpedoes ran with only half a charge of alcohol fuel
in their engines, and in place of the explosive torpex warhead, they carried
water with dye marker in their noses. A little pump forced the dye out as the
torpedo was running. We would zoom down over the mountains ringing Pyra¬
mid Lake, put our Avengers right on the water, and thunder in toward the
target — a three-hundred foot line between a boat and the buoy it was towing.
(Three hundred feet was equivalent to the length of a destroyer.) We’d make
our drops and climb out of there, while observers watched to see where our
torpedoes ran — whether they were hits or misses. And we had to practice
coming in at different angles.
Arthur M. Smith, Jr.
When a torpedo ran out of alcohol, it would surface, blowing out the re¬
maining water and dye marker. That made it buoyant enough so that its nose,
which was painted yellow, bobbed up out of the water. The boat would retrieve
the spent torpedoes and return them to shore to be sent back to our base for
refueling and rearming.
One day after we’d dropped our stuff on the lake, we flew back to Fallon and
encountered a snow storm right over the base. The air officer radioed us, “Go
out ten or twelve miles. There’s a big dry lake out there. Land on it. And,” he
said, “I’m going to repeat this three times: Land with your wheels down; wheels
down; wheels down!” [laughter] We flew out and put down on the playa, and
sat in the desert silence for a couple of hours. There was no storm or anything
out there, only ten miles from the base. One guy monitored the radio, and
finally he said, “It’s cleared; we can go home.” We fired up our engines, those
big props spinning, and you should have seen the dust stream off that dry lake
bed! Then we flew down to Fallon and landed.
(In 1994, out hunting ducks with a buddy, I returned to the lake bed for the
first time since the war. It’s right next to Salt Wells. I told my friend, “You
know, that whore house must not have been here the first time I visited this
place. I think we would have noticed it. [laughter])
We trained out of Fallon for thirteen weeks. Soon after that we went aboard
the Altamaha , a Jeep carrier, and sailed to Hawaii.
Flying Avenger torpedo bombers. Art Smith became a proficient, highly-skilledpilot;
but his unit never got into action. At wars end, he was still with Air Group 13,
based in Hawaii. Following his discharge Art returned to the world of banking,
initially in Clark County, and then in Reno. He worked his way up from teller to
become the chairman and CEO of First Interstate Banks, from which position he
retired in 1984. All his adult life. Art Smith has been actively involved in commu¬
nity affairs and in charitable endeavors too numerous to list. He has also served on
the University of Nevada Board of Regents, and is currently a trustee of the Univer¬
sity of Nevada, Reno Foundation.
“But to Gregor and Me, What Did it Matter?”
Janice Duncan Goodhue
Janice Duncan Goodhue was bom
and raised in San Francisco. She
was studying to be a nurse at Johns
Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore,
Maryland, when she fell in love
with Gregor Duncan, the famous
Stars and Stripes cartoonist who
Bill Mauldin called a genius. Her
life wentfrom romance to tragedy
during World War II:
Janice and Gregor Duncan, Naples, Italy, May 1944.
I HAD KNOWN GREGOR DUNCAN for several years in San Francisco, and
deep down I guess I was always in love with him. But I was younger, and at
first he didn’t pay much attention to me. He was an illustrator for a San Fran¬
cisco afternoon newspaper before moving to New York to advance his career.
When I went east to study nursing at Johns Hopkins, I started seeing him
again. I didn’t finish my nursing education, but married Gregor instead, for
which I was never sorry. We were married in 1938 at New York City Hall.
Gregor did commercial drawings for Collier’s and Reader’s Digest, and some
illustrations for children’s books. He did well commercially because he could
work very quickly, doing beautiful pen-and-inks and charcoals. I worked as the
art directors secretary for Compton Advertising, an enormous agency. One of
their clients was Proctor and Gamble.
When Gregors mother died, his draft status changed to 1 A. He immediately
reported to the draft board because we weren’t going to try to fool our govern¬
ment, and he was drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1942. The Air Corps used
all those wonderful old hotels in Atlantic City for ground crew training, and
Gregor was sent there for weeks. By this time I had left Compton and was
Janice Duncan Goodhue
working for OWI, the Office of War Information and propaganda analysis.
Fascinating. I remember taking the Pennsylvania Railroad train to Atlantic City
— everything was crowded and everyone standing up, but there was a sense of
camaraderie, even though the conditions were simply awful off base. Some very
greedy people in Atlantic City rented apartments or rooms for only eight hours,
so they had three shifts. We could only go in for eight hours, so meeting with
Gregor in Atlantic City was not the best, but that’s all we could do at the time.
Gregor was next assigned to Lowrey Field in Denver, Colorado, where he did
a portrait of General Marshall. Lowrey was where mechanics were trained for
the ground crews for all of the planes. After training, he was sent to Tarpon
Springs, Florida. By then they recognized him as an artist and transferred him
into public relations.
Meanwhile I stayed with OWI, knowing that Gregor might be sent over¬
seas. We discussed it and decided that if I volunteered for the American Red
Cross that would probably be better. I was interviewed, accepted the position,
and went to Washington D.C. in May of 1943. We were there six weeks at
American University for our training. From there we went on the S.S. Monterey
troop ship to North Africa, which took six days. There were about five thou¬
sand troops and about thirty Red Cross volunteers on board.
As soon as we were in Casablanca, we were bivouacked and lived in tents
while we were waiting to be assigned to other parts of Africa. I was assigned to
Algiers to the Enlisted Men’s Club. That was a wonderful, big building, about
seven stories tall. It was a billet, so we had showers, cots, blankets, and pillows
for two floors. But we only had a limited number of cots, so the men would
sign up in the morning, then they could be out all day and come back and
spend the night, like at a youth hostel or YMCA. Every club had coffee and
doughnuts, but we also had a mess hall that the soldiers could go to. We had a
wonderful big rec hall, which had been the auditorium of the school — that’s
where Bob Hope came to entertain the troops.
Algiers was a beautiful city. As a matter of fact, it reminded me a little of
Santa Barbara, because it’s built on a hill and the climate is similar. It was the
site of Allied headquarters before they went back to London for the big inva¬
sion — AFHQ was right up the hill from us. Because the British didn’t have
money to spend for recreation centers, any enlisted man from the British, Aus¬
tralian, and South African services could come to our club. We also had a sepa¬
rate officer’s club. Right next door was another excellent building which housed
Stars and Stripes and the British Ministry of Information.
The lectures held at the club were very popular, and we had movies playing
“But to Gregor and Me, What Did it Matter?”
during the day and different movies every week. We always had ping-pong,
checkers, chess, and other types of games. We had paperbacks, best sellers and
comic books, and we set up a library. Young Algerian women who were stu¬
dents, mostly French and English, lived nearby, and we had them in for dances.
The enlisted men came from all over the United States, and they all had
different accents. They always asked where we were from, and they liked the
fact that I was from San Francisco. Then, of course, we asked them about them¬
selves and if they had family or girlfriends. They always wanted to show their
pictures immediately, which was perfectly normal, and whether you were inter¬
ested or not, you certainly pretended you were. That was what you were there
for. You listened a lot. Some of them would flirt, but they were uptight. I mean,
when you think of what they had been doing ....
A tragic thing happened when we first were sent to Algiers from Casablanca:
We were given an S.O.S. to get on a plane to go to Tunis to have an evening
dance and party for some fliers who had just come back from a mission. They
were crews from the Liberators, the B-24s just back from the Ploesti raids, but
we weren’t told that. Some other women and I went with these men and went
swimming in the Bay of Carthage, stayed up all night, drank and ate with them.
That was a terrible thing ... [begins to cry] Half of them had lost their planes,
their men . . . but they never mentioned a thing. We had a wonderful night,
moonlight on the Bay of Carthage, a beautiful bay outside of Tunis. The next
day .... [pauses, crying] They had some British friends who had motorcycles,
and we rode up a hillside. It was wild, but it was all you could do.
It was only later that I learned about the tragedy of the Ploesti oil field raid.
That was really awful, but fortunately I didn’t know it at the time. I’ll never
forget, we had a wonderful time swimming in the Bay of Carthage. I’m not
even sure we had any clothes on.
Later Gregor turned up in Algiers, and that was unheard of, because he was
an enlisted man. Fortunately with Stars and Stripes, rank didn’t matter. He had
some time off and I had some time off, so we rode an Algerian bus to the edge
of the Sahara desert where the American army had taken over a hotel for R&R.
Before the war it had been among a fabulous chain of French hotels all through
North Africa — Trans-Atlantique. Fantastic. It couldn’t have been better.
Who should be there but this wonderful author who wrote How Green Was
My Valley , Richard Llewellyn. He was with British military information and was
on R&R. He and Gregor become great friends, and they go to the Arab quarter
Janice Duncan Goodhue
together. I can’t go because I’m a woman, but Llewellyn asks me if I would type
some papers for him. Oh my God, I was thrilled to death! And, of course, the
Arab quarter — God knows what they did. They probably drank horrible stuff,
and when they came back they were not feeling very well. But we had a won¬
derful time. I even have some pictures of Gregor on a camel, in the Sahara
desert, and on a broken-down bus, running on charcoal and smelly — all the
people with their animals and everything. But to Gregor and me, what did it
After Algiers, I was sent with two Red Cross women to Sardinia, with a B-26
bomb group. The whole Italian Army and Air Corps had just surrendered to us,
so we lived in the Italian Fascist officers quarters, and they were outside looking
in. They had no place to go. It was cock-eyed. It was awful. I was there four
months, October ’43 to February — spent a Christmas there. We were put in a
great big building which the airmen had used to store ammo. Our doughnut
machine was shipped to us from Chicago, so we had this big doughnut ma¬
chine and all the flour in this ammo depot.
Later, Gregor was sent to Naples, but by that time I had come back to Algiers,
where I saw him briefly before he was re-assigned. Stars and Stripes was closing
its Algiers office, and after I helped close the American Red Cross Enlisted
Men’s Club in Algiers, my next assignment was also Naples. Fortunately I ar¬
rived in Naples just a couple of days before Gregor left for Anzio. When I first
saw him, he came in with Bill Mauldin, and Bill tells a story about me running
out and being so glad to see him, and a picture was taken at that time, too. It
was a magical time, and so unusual for us to be able to see each other during the
Stars and Stripes had a very nice old villa, and Gregor and I had a couple of
delightful days. One night there was an air raid warning. We would have to go
all the way down from the fifth floor to a bomb shelter which was really more
like a subway than an underground shelter, and the Italians were running so
fast and furiously that we felt we would be trampled, so we decided to stay up
top. It didn’t happen to be a very severe air raid, but there were times you just
didn’t do what they told you to do.
Gregor soon left to join our invasion forces at Anzio. I had a choice of going
either to Capri or Ischia for R&R. I chose Ischia, because that was a British
R&R. Having been with American airmen on Sardinia, even if I’m on R&R,
they think I belong to them; so I knew that at Capri I would have no R&R for
“But to Gregor and Me, What Did it Matter?”
Bill Mauldin delivers Gregor to Janice.
myself. The British would pay no attention to me. Ischia was just beautiful, and
it hadn’t been spoiled like Capri. I walked up to a monastery, and whose name
did I see on the guest list but Greta Garbo. You could see how they were all
living high, wide and handsome before the war.
I was there when a good friend of ours, a correspondent from the Chicago
Sun Times , sent a message that I was to come back to Naples immediately.
When I arrived, he was on the dock to tell me that Gregor had been killed at
Anzio. There was nothing to do. We walked around, and he took me to a black
market Italian restaurant for lunch. We drank and drank, and ate something
That night there was a gathering of Stars and Stripes people in a bombed-out
village. A Yank correspondent had just returned from Yugoslavia with a British
correspondent — they had had a meeting with Tito and the partisans up in the
mountains, and they had just come back to Italy. I was semi-here and not here,
Janice Duncan Goodhue
because I was still in a state of shock. And yet, you get around. You’re on your
feet, and you keep going. That whole evening took me out of myself and Gregor
and everything, and I was listening to them tell about their meeting with Tito.
That was May of 1944.
Once Gregor was gone, I could not work again in an enlisted men’s club,
because — and rightfully so — they talked about how much they hated the
war, and how they wanted to go home. I knew that I couldn’t handle that
anymore. So I asked to be reassigned and was sent to a hospital unit, the 38th
Evacuation Hospital. It was in Rome and had been at Anzio. Everyone there
was weary. I have pictures of them. They were in a daze, having been in Anzio
so long. They just bivouacked around one of the gorgeous, big fountains of
Rome, taking their beds and tents in the little park, and all of them wading in
their hospital gowns and robes. They’d throw off their combat boots and dip
their feet in the big fountain.
From Rome, they were ready to go on north. That’s when they leap-frogged
the 11th and the 38th Evacuation Hospitals. The 11th started out first, and
then we followed them. When they set up their tent and bivouacked, then we
went over them, so to speak. When we were settled, then they advanced. One
or the other was always closest to the action, like in MASH , for immediate care
of the wounded. We (the American Red Cross) were responsible for so-called
recreation. All the cigarettes, candies, and games came to us. We set up a rec
tent, and a couple of GIs went out and got us an upright piano. The patients
would come into the tent once they were ambulatory. If they were invalids, we
had to go serve them in their beds.
We got bogged down in this part of Italy for a long time, because the
Germans had us stopped. We were bivouacked in Pisa, which isn’t too far from
Livorno, a little inland from the coast. The Red Cross women, the nurses, and
I were asked to go in an ambulance to the beach one day. We were supposed to
have a picnic on the beach with the Nisei 100th Battalion, 442nd Regiment,
who were getting ready to go into southern France. They had fishing boats, and
we had music, and we swam in the sea.
After Pisa I left Italy, because I’d been overseas eighteen months and the
situation was so grim. Following Gregor’s death I had become particularly sen¬
sitive and angry. I might have had battle fatigue just like the veterans. Anyway,
I was not good for anything any more, so it was time to go.
When I got back to the states it was Christmastime, 1944. Gregor’s sister still
lived in San Francisco, and we had remained good friends, so I went to spend
“But to Gregor and Me, What Did it Matter?
Christmas with her. That Christmas . . . oh, it was awful. It was awful for
everyone. I dragged my way through it. Sometimes I wonder if I really lived
through that time of war. The memories become like a movie: sometimes a
good movie, sometimes a bad movie.
Janice Duncan remarried, but she and her second husband soon recognized that
they had unwisely married on the reboundfrom the war, and they parted amicably.
Some years later, after moving around and trying several jobs, she met and married
Nathaniel Goodhue. They moved to Carson City, Nevada, where she worked in the
Nevada State Legislature. Nathaniel died after thirty years of happy marriage, she
moved to Reno and now volunteers as a tutor in the English as a Second Language
program at the University of Nevada.
“A Great Ring of Fire”
Benedict J. Dasher
Ben Dasher was born outside of Cleveland,
Ohio, October 12, 1917, and graduated from
high school in 1935. He studied industrial en¬
gineering at Cleveland State University and
Northwestern University in Chicago. He also
played professional basketball in an industrial
league in nine states in the Midwest. Dasher
was drafted in 1942, and after OCS he was
assigned to the 6th Engineer Divisions Special
Brigade. For a year, he and his men received
training in amphibious landings and the as¬
sault of defended beaches. Their mission would
be to clear tetrahedrons, mine fields, and other
obstacles to assault that were placed on a beach
by the enemy. In the winter of1943-44 he and
his unit were sent to England, where they be¬
gan preparing for the invasion of Europe. Dasher was a first lieutenant in command
of a company:
N OW WE HAD PURPOSE, so morale was up. Military life can be very numb¬
ing to die rniiid, because its so unimaginative, but diis was somediing
different: we knew we would land on a foreign beach that would be defended
with the devices we were learning to disable.
The evening of the fourth of June, 1944, we moved to our assembly area,
gathering in a large forest which shielded us from enemy observation. The
Germans still did not know when or where we were coming. That night, there
was a lot of standing in line and singing in an attempt to keep our courage up.
On June the fifth, bad weather postponed our landing until the next day. When
we finally embarked on June 6, everybody got seasick — the channel was a
miserable body of water, and it was raining heavily. Some guys were sitting in
Benedict J. Dasher
corners of the ship just thinking, reflecting; some were playing poker. Each had
his own way of coping with what faced him. As an officer with a command, I
had little time to think about myself... and that was probably the last time for
quite a while that I really felt in command, [laughter]
We went in at Omaha Beach, but I don’t know how I got off my ship and
into a landing craft; I must have clambered down a net — time and again I’ve
tried to pluck that memory out of my mind. It was totally dark, and I saw a
great ring of fire on shore. Behind us our battleships were sending their big
cannonades over us onto the shore — the salvoes just shook you out of your
shoes. I thought the fire I saw was our shells landing on the beach, but as I got
closer, I realized it was muzzle flashes from enemy fire, which was quite a sur¬
prise. Darkness enhances all that.
The ensign in command of our landing craft was afraid, and he stopped too
soon in water that was too deep. Everybody jumped off with full field packs,
their rifles held above their heads. Our company carpenter, a short man, was
beside me. Together we disembarked in high waves, and he went under. I reached
out and got him by the straps, and we tried to make our way toward shore.
Omaha Beach was a crescent. On the two ends of the crescent, at the corners of
the cliffs, there were German 88mm gun emplacements. They were cross-firing
and giving us a bad, bad time. Every time I would hear an explosion I would
duck by reflex and dunk the carpenter. He would come up sputtering, [laugh¬
The water was over our heads, and we couldn’t defend ourselves, but we were
fortunate — many of the landing craft were blown up, just WHAM!... awful.
But we didn’t get hit, and we managed to make it to shore where there was a
large vessel that was damaged and tilted over on its side. From there, I ran up on
the sand and jumped into a shell hole that was already seeping water. I caught
my breath. On the other side lay a young soldier — blue-eyed, pink-cheeked,
blond — and he just stared at me, obviously badly hurt. I managed to get a
medic over to examine him, but he looked at me and just shook his head. If you
would picture an all-American boy, this is the way that kid looked. He’s never
left me ....
From there I ran up to the sea wall. We all crouched behind it, stuck there as
the shelling continued. There was a chateau built right down on the beach, and
a lieutenant colonel and I went in to make sure that no enemy occupied it. In
front of it was a maze, the French garden type, and we worked that thing over
to make sure that it was clear. Then there were some obstacles to be destroyed,
and a lot of ammunition was wasted by shooting into hillsides to clear mines,
“A Great Ring of Fire’
which is not the way to do it because you don’t have any record that it’s truly
Nobody had landed where they were supposed to. We had all kinds of snafus
— nobody knew where they were or where they were supposed to be. The so-
called “well-planned” landings went all to hell. Communications broke down,
and there was a failure to do the things we were trained to do, such as marking
the trails that were cleared. But we attempted to find ourselves and establish
communications. My unit’s situation was complicated by the fact that our com¬
manding officer got shot through the lower jaw and was immediately evacu¬
ated. He was quickly replaced. I was standing at the sea wall when somebody
walked up and said, “Lieutenant, this is your new commanding officer.”
I turned and had to look down, down, until I found the man, who was very
short. As a Regular Army officer, he took offense at my slow take. He ordered,
“Assemble your men and police the beach,” which meant pick up bodies — not
our mission at all. It may have had to be done, but not by us or at that time.
However, in his judgement it was appropriate, because troops were coming in
all the time, and they should not see severed arms and legs and corpses in the
surf and on the beach.
We got out of that detail when a general officer said, “We have to get the hell
off this beach!” That kind of voice and that kind instruction and that kind of
sentiment made sense, [laughter] Across a field to our front was high ground.
The regular combat engineers had cleared a path on the left that was suffi¬
ciently protected on both sides so that you could snake up there. Ultimately, all
of us got up on top of the rise late that night, fourteen or fifteen hours after we
had waded ashore.
From our hilltop, when the town of Caen was bombed, we could see wave
after wave of British Lancaster bombers going over, just making a tremendous
bomb fire. Our pathway up the beach became a major highway, and the dust
on the road was so deep that it was just like marching through our dry lakes in
Nevada. Some wise guys put on their gas masks, starting a hysteria — some
men thought there must have been a gas attack. Then everybody’s gas mask
came out, and it was said there were deaths when guys forgot to take the clip off
Sometime on the third or fourth day there was only scattered fire in front of
us. Our orders were to advance. We came across a French dairy, and I had the
most overwhelming desire for a glass of milk. I went to the loading platform,
Benedict J. Dasher
which surrounded the building completely like a veranda. A Frenchman looked
out, and I took my canteen and motioned to him. He ran out and filled my
canteen with milk. I drank it down and it was heavenly! But even though I was
in relatively mortal danger from combat, I became worried that the milk was
not pasteurized . . . really worried! [laughter]
Four days after the invasion, I got hit with just a flick of magnesium from a
bursting shell, and by morning my head was the size of a basketball. My eyes
and ears were closed, my mouth swollen shut. I was placed on a stretcher and
put in the back of an ambulance — pushed into one of those six slots. Next
thing I knew, I was on the deck of a Liberty ship surrounded by terribly wounded
GIs... hard to believe — legs, arms. We all went back across the Channel, and
I spent about two months in a hospital. Evidently that magnesium was poison¬
ous in some way. I was asked to fill out the papers for a Purple Heart, but I
refused. With me were guys who were horribly wounded, and what did I have?
The hospital was close to London, with buzz bombs going over. One landed
close enough to flatten the roof of the Quonset hut we were in, so I was billeted
for a few days in a room in a London home. During a total blackout when an
attack came, everybody ran to the shelters. I didn’t. It was nothing compared to
what I had seen.
When I recovered I was given my sidearm, a .45, and put in command of
150 deserters to take back to the French shore. I was scared. They were bad, bad
guys, [laughter] I just found the highest point on that deck and sat there with
the .45. I was very happy to get rid of them.
At the repple-depple (replacement depot), I set up a pup tent and dug a
shallow ditch around it, because it rained for three or four weeks. I had very big
feet, size fifteen, and no boots, and winter was coming. But General Mark
Clark was due through and everything was muddy, so a tent was erected in the
middle of the depot, and since they didn’t know Gen. Clarks size, they put all
sizes of galoshes in it. I went in at dusk when there was nobody around, and I
found a pair of size fifteen galoshes that fit me. [laughter] I’m sure that Mark
Clark didn’t wear size fifteens. I brought them back from the war with me, and
just a few years ago I threw them away.
A colonel in my unit, a West Pointer, was reassigned to prepare for evacua¬
tion of troops back to the states. He managed to issue orders making me his
assistant, and we went to Brussels, where I was stationed when the war ended.
I had about eight months before my points were sufficient to leave, during
“A Great Ring of Fire”
which I set up the procedures for the evacuation of American troops back to the
states. While stationed in Brussels my living standards changed considerably.
Oh Christ, I was in heaven! I stayed with a Belgian family in a loft in their
I was in Brussels when the atom bombs were dropped on Japan, and I said,
“Thank God!” I thought this was the greatest thing ever. The location could
have been better thought out, without so many innocent lives being forfeited,
but war is a big blunt instrument. It has no mind. It has no feeling. It’s just a
bad, bad thing.
I got back to the states on the last day of 1945, and was in Times Square on
New Year’s Eve. My transition to civilian life was difficult. I had no place to live,
so I enrolled at Northwestern, which enabled me to live in university housing.
I lived there for quite a while, and had a terrible time. Didn’t know how to
conduct myself, but I made it.
At the fortieth anniversary of World War II, I had an urge to go back to
Omaha Beach. Those four or five days in June of 1944 had been the biggest
event of my life. After that, there wasn’t anything.
I went back with my wife. She just left me alone, and I relived a lot of my
feelings. There are graves on the hill we occupied, in a beautiful ce metery — ten
thousand white crosses. And all the gun emplacements are still on those cres¬
cents. It was a tremendously emotional experience. Only then did I realize the
Germans were there that day on that bloody beach purely by chance. I could
look out to that horizon and just see all those ships, the noise, the disembarkment,
the confusion, the death all around, people shooting, you shooting ....
I felt better after I’d been there, although I don’t want to go again. I used to
have nightmares; I don’t know what going back did, but I haven’t had any for a
long time. In my worst nightmare, I was in a foxhole with railroad ties over the
top, and then sandbags over that. There was a small sleeping bag, and I was in
it. . . and I had one of those horrible episodes. I dreamed I couldn’t get out. I
got all tangled up inside the bag, and didn’t know which way to go. [laughter]
We were hit by night air raids, and guys died from stuff like that, you know.
I do not believe that there will ever be another situation in this country in
which we come together with such unified purpose and true patriotism. That’s
a word you can scoff at so easily, but it accomplished tremendous things that I
don’t believe can ever happen again because of today’s cynicism. Our generation
Benedict J. Dasher
had a major test, and we stood up to the test, and we succeeded. It put iron in
me. Exercise builds muscle; experience builds iron.
Ben Dasher was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, Bronze Star, French Croix
De Guerre, Merit Agricole, and French Reconnaissance Medal. He moved to Reno
in 1948, opened the Universe Life Insurance Company, and served as its president
for thirty-five years. Dasher is well known for his community service, for which he
has received numerous awards and honors.
“Especially on May 21st”
Mark Curtis was born in Oklahoma in 1921.
He attended Phoenix Junior College in 1941,
and was in Long Beach, California, working
for Douglas Aircraft when Pearl Harbor was
r )EOPLE MY AGE did not want to be
drafted, but the whole psychological at¬
titude toward service changed after Pearl
Harbor — everybody suddenly wanted to
go. I had the notion that I’d join the Royal
Canadian Air Force (I could see myself as a
glamorous pilot, like actor Tyrone Power
in Great Britain’s Eagle Squadron), so I reg¬
istered and took my exams in the Holly¬
wood Roosevelt Hotel. But before I was able
to go, I was drafted.
We said goodbye to our girlfriends. Everyone knew a girlfriend’s duty was to
promise to marry you and to write — it was good for morale. Then we boarded
a train for Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where we would get basic training. The
train was coal-powered and the windows were open, so we arrived completely
grimy, spitting up coal dust. Jefferson Barracks had to be the hell-hole of the
universe — hot and humid in mid-summer. After basic, I was assigned to the
Air Force to be trained as a B-17 gunner. Gunnery School was at Nellis Air
Force Base in Las Vegas. There we were given classes on the operation of ma¬
chine guns and on radio communications. Following six weeks of strenuous
introductory training, we moved to advanced training on specific gun stations.
Everyone wanted to be in a position to make a difference and be somewhat
heroic, and I had a gung-ho attitude, so I chose the ball turret, which is the one
that’s beneath the plane. It’s very cramped, but as thin as I was, I was able to fit.
The ball looked to me like more of a challenge than the others: it would be
exciting to be completely isolated in it, on my own when we were airborne. And
when I first got into one and was able to swing it around and look at anything
on the horizon, I thought it would be a very good place. I even felt a little
protected, because the machine guns and their ammo belts and other equip¬
ment surrounded me . . . but I didn’t think about what would happen if the
turret lost power — you can’t get out unless somebody cranks you out by hand.
At Spokane, Washington we formed our crew. We were all eighteen, nine¬
teen, twenty, and I think our pilot was the youngest — a baby-faced little guy.
We weren’t manly: we were boys! Yet we were ready and able to accept each
other as professionals, knowing that we would be fighting together. We did
some intensive flying and training from Ephrata, Washington, and then we
moved to Rapid City, South Dakota for more training. We used to fly down
canyons and shoot at the cliffs so we could see our bullets strike. That led to
quite a siege of ranchers complaining about cattle that had been killed, which
was true, but they got that stopped.
As young men wearing wings on our uniforms we thought we were some¬
thing special, and we went into town as often as possible to try to make friends
with the local females. Because the male population had been depleted, girls
came out to the base, and there were dances in Rapid City. They also had little
picnics and luncheons for us — they were very supportive; they wanted to do
things for you. Our pilot made friends with a schoolteacher who had a one-
room school. We found her schoolhouse and buzzed it, and all the kids ran out.
She was delighted, of course.
We went overseas in April, 1943, and by then I had made staff sergeant.
Each crew was on its own for the flight down to South America, then across the
Atlantic to Dakar, and then to England. This was a dangerous undertaking,
requiring skillful navigation and a little luck. We were under a lot of stress, both
because we were never certain about finding our way, and because we were
flying alone through skies patrolled by the enemy. A B-17 was not meant to be
a singular airplane. It was always meant to be in a formation, to be able to put
out this enormous firescreen on all sides.
Arriving safely at Land’s End, England, we spent some time practicing again
— both in exams and flying in formation, the most important part — and we
remained confident and cocky, even after we found out what B-17 crew losses
Especially on May 21st”
in combat were. It was always like, “I’ll be the one to make it through.” Finally
it was time for our first raid, and we began to feel it — the way you feel at four
o’clock in the morning at breakfast before a briefing. And then you’re off. The
main scare comes when you see the flak right across from you. You know they’ve
found your altitude when the shells explode right next to you. Each time, get¬
ting back to the base was like coming home — the exhilaration of having made
it. But the next time, you’d have that same churning in your stomach. I don’t
think that lessened . . . always the same.
England was home, of course. When we first arrived over there, they had
said, “GIs are overpaid, oversexed, and over here.” The GIs responded, saying,
“The English are underpaid, undersexed, and under Eisenhower.” [laughter]
But coming back after a mission and finding England below, it looked safe and
warm and friendly, and we felt more and more intimacy with that country and
We’d sit around evenings talking about what was better — to be down on the
muddy ground as infantry being shot at, or to be flying through the sky. It all
seemed so clean and tranquil up there during training, but later, as you saw
bombers blowing up in mid-air or spiraling down smoking from an engine, it
didn’t seem that clean. When you got back to your base from a mission, there
would always be several planes missing. That was sad.
Our tail gunner used to talk about fate: “When it’s your time to go, you go.”
And one guy said, “Well, what if it’s the pilot’s time to go?” That was a very
With combat, things suddenly turn very realistic, and you are subdued. There
isn’t all this chattering on the intercom. After a couple of missions we were not
as cocky and carefree as we had been — it was becoming more intense, espe¬
cially when crews were missing the next day and you didn’t know what their
fate was. It began to get close, closer, and closer.
One night I sat at a table with a young man who had flown fifteen missions;
the odds of making twenty-five were nil. He was very somber, and he wouldn’t
talk about it, and that said more than anything about what it was going to be
like. We grew up in about fifteen minutes after we crossed the Channel. That
was the end of youth.
Our first mission into Germany was on May 21, 1943. We were on our way
to Emden, Germany, on the North Sea not far from the Netherlands, and at
first it didn’t seem like an intense mission. There was just a little flak, and a few
Members of the 412th Squadron, 95th Bomb Group, May, 1943. Mark Curtis is at left,
planes were skirting around the outside of our formation. The German pilots
had developed a technique — fighters coming head on from a high altitude
right at a B-17 formation. They would just flash down through it, cannons and
machine guns firing, and that was a tough and very scary tactic. Approaching
Emden we could see them lining up above and ahead of us, and then here they
One of the Messerschmitts put a cannon shell directly into the cockpit of our
B-17, killing both Dexter Snebley, our pilot and George Miller, our copilot.
The power went out, so I couldn’t bring my turret up to get out and put on my
’chute. In action, the turret is positioned so that your guns cover the 180 de¬
grees below the horizon, and to leave the ball you had to rotate the turret until
you and the guns were facing straight down. Only then could you get out into
the fuselage above through the hatch at your back. The plane was falling out of
Especially on May 21st”
control, and I was scared to death. I was still doing what I should do and trying
to crank the turret into the right position by hand, but the force of the slip¬
stream kept pushing it back. I tried four or five times without success, and it
was really beginning to scare me. And then suddenly I felt the turret rolling up
by itself. . . or I thought by itself. Charles Craig was there on his knees on the
floor above, saving me.
Our radioman was really responsible for me if I got in that situation, but
with the explosion he had headed straight for the waist door to bail out. Craig
came down from his front upper turret to help me. He was right there behind
the pilot and copilot, and he had seen what happened. Came all the way back,
across the narrow walk that crossed the bomb bay, and put a hand crank on the
outside of the ball, and rolled it around. As soon as I was up into the fuselage I
grabbed my ’chute and sat down and buckled it on. Then I stepped over to the
waist window, and it looked like we still had some time. The plane was going
down in wide, wide circles.
Charlie Corum, the tail gunner, had gone out the hatch in the tail, and the
radioman had gone out. The navigator and bombardier got out through a hatch
in front of the cockpit. Charles Craig and Philip Auld were at the waist door,
and I stood there ready to jump ... I wasn’t really thinking about what was
going on. They were both looking at me, and Craig motioned for me to jump,
which I did. Maybe I could have . . . maybe I should have been doing some¬
thing, but they both motioned for me to jump.
As soon as my ’chute opened I was buzzed by a fighter. I was concerned that
he would shoot at me, but he just passed by and waggled his wings and waited.
I was in the air long enough to see our plane circle me and crash near an old
Prior to this mission, all our targets had been in occupied France; so when I
hit the ground, I got out of my ’chute and went up to a group of people and
spoke the only foreign phrase I had been taught: “Jesuis un Aviator Americain."
[laughter] “ Ja ,” they said. I couldn’t have gotten away anyway, because there
was no place to hide. It was flat, wide open country, criss-crossed by canals.
I was so exhilarated to get out of the turret, to jump out of the plane ... and
when the ’chute opens, it’s like you’ve been saved, especially when you hit the
ground safely. I didn’t feel anything else, and I didn’t think about anybody else.
My pulse was pounding all this time, and eventually there was a letdown after I
slept. It’s really an exhausting thing that comes along afterward.
Two German soldiers in a motorcycle with a side car came up quickly and
took me prisoner, brought me to this little tavern. There I began to realize the
toll, because there were only six of us. Then they brought in the bodies of Craig
and Auld. Why Craig hadn’t jumped or ... it’s hard to imagine, because he was
the only one of us who was thinking straight when he got me out.
I’ve wondered many times about why Craig and Auld were holding back at
the waist door. Recently I began to believe that Auld was having a hard time
getting his ’chute buckled up, because Craig was in his and trying to help; that’s
the way it appears to me now. It seems unlikely that they didn’t make it out.
They probably both jumped, but it may have been too late, because the plane
only made one more circle and crashed. When the Germans brought them in
on stretchers, and they were both dead ... it occurs to me now that they both
/Wjumped, because I think they would have been impaled in the wreckage, or
charred in the fire if they went down with the airplane. They both looked
pretty normal — no burns, no tears or anything. They looked alive, almost.
Our captors put us in a truck, and the truck drove off. It stopped on an old
road in the middle of nowhere, and I thought, “This is it; they’re just going to
put us out and shoot us. It’s hopeless.” But the driver got out and urinated,
[laughter] Then we drove on to a bomb shelter, and they kept us in there over¬
night. So far we felt pretty safe, but we were very hungry.
Eventually we made it in to Amsterdam, where they put us in a dungeon that
was centuries old. It was cold and dark. We were there a couple of days, and
they’d take us out in the sun once or twice during the day. When we were
transported again, we started a song to the tune of “It’s Only a Shanty in Old
Shanty Town.” We changed it to, “It’s only a dungeon in old Amsterdam.”
From there they took us to Frankfurt, which was the interrogation center,
and put us in solitary. First, a major comes in and is very nice and tells you how
much he knows — which is almost everything, but he wants you to verify it.
His knowledge surprised me, but you just can’t believe that anybody rAm-would
give him that information. He said, “It’s too bad that Germany and America
weren’t on the same side. With our intelligence, and your productive output,
we could have owned the world.” He just talked for a while and let me think.
When he left, I began reading little notes and inscriptions everywhere on the
wall, which I’m convinced now were there simply for the purpose of convinc¬
ing you. Things like, “I’ve been here sixty days,” and “It’s too cold, and you’re
not getting out.”
I slept. I was tired, and it had been a strenuous three or four days, constantly
moving and not knowing what the future would bring. Then somebody else
“Especially on May 21st”
came in, and he was a “bad cop,” and this went on for a number of days. A lot
of threats, like, “You’re going to be here a long time, and we’ll get it out of you
one way or the other.” You had no idea what to expect. When I was taken to the
restroom, I could hear one of the others whistling the tune to our ditty, “It’s
only a cell block in old Amsterdam.” So we knew that we were all there. It was
very good to hear each other, but finally they shut us up.
Then they took us into a very clean, comfortable place with all the facilities,
and we had tea and crackers and cookies. It was a very pleasant three or four
days, sleeping well, cleaning up, and eating well, [laughter] That’s where they
got all their information. You’re all loosened up. You’ve been in this cell block
for so long, and you go out and you see your friends, and you start talking; and,
of course, the place was bugged. We finally got the idea and could warn those
coming in, but I think there was very little they didn’t know after we left.
Bailing out and landing safely — that sort of dominated everything. Then
when they brought Craig and Auld in on stretchers, you choked up, but you
immediately came back to how you were. Their deaths hit me worse on the train
from Frankfurt to our prison camp, locked in a box car, guarded by a soldier.
All of a sudden who we had lost and how close we were struck me, and that
took a while to get over. I cried, but I can’t be sure it was all for them, as much
as it was for me.
It’s just a thing that happens in a war — you’re sorry to lose your comrades,
but you feel stronger about still being alive. Ever since .... When I got ahold
of Craig’s and Auld’s families .... It comes to me quite often. Every May 21,
having been shot down on that date, I think about it.
The most emotionally depressing part of being a prisoner of war was when
we were transported to our first camp. We got on a train and were locked in
these box cars, “forty and eight,” which means they can hold forty men or eight
horses. We pulled in to Stalag 7A at night, and from the box cars we could see
the gate and the barbed wire. It’s drizzling and cold, there’s a few dim lights
shining down from tall poles, and it’s muddy, and through the rain you see all
these dilapidated little barracks — all of a sudden you realize just what kind of
a fix you’re in. You’ll be spending the rest of the war here.
We were taken out of the cars and herded in to the barracks. There we found
tiers of beds — four on the floor level, four on a second level, and four on a
third. There were, oh, thirty or forty tiers in a room, and they brought enough
prisoners in to fill that up. It’s just an incredible packing of people into a small
space. If one person moved at night, everybody knew it. [laughter] Bags filled
with straw, that was your mattress.
By now your mother and father and friends know that you’re missing. As I
learned later, my mother received a telegram: “The secretary of war has asked
me to express his regrets that your son has been reported missing in action.
After we get more information, we will advise you.” But before the telegram,
she received something like twenty-eight letters and cards from people on the
east coast who had picked up a German shortwave broadcast naming prisoners
and giving their home towns. These cards were very comforting to her, and
finally getting an official notice that I was a prisoner was a great relief. When I
left the country, my mother’s hair was mostly red; when I returned after being
a POW, her hair had turned gray.
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We were in 7-A almost four months, and then they moved us to Stalag 17 for
more space. The number of airmen coming down was growing. There were
four thousand in Stalag 17 before the end of the war, and there were other
camps all over the place.
“Especially on May 21st”
The night we arrived at Stalag 17 we disembarked from the box cars and
were marched up a long hill and herded into a big warehouse that was full of
straw with dust in the air. Immediately, I started having trouble breathing; I
was almost asphyxiated. I guess it was asthma, which I had never had before.
Some GIs pointed out to the Germans how much distress I was in, and they let
two GIs cross their hands to make a “firemans sling” for me, and carry me up
another hill to a hospital for the occupied countries — there were Poles, Bul¬
garians, and other nationalities there, and the staff of the hospital were prison¬
ers from the different foreign countries. To treat me they took me into a large,
warm room — looked almost like a shower room, because the steam was so
dense — and laid me down on the floor, with all these heads looming over me.
I was the first American many of them had seen since 1940, since the fall of
Paris. They gave me a shot which had an immediate effect. After recovering, I
was able to stay there as liaison with our camp for about three months. I would
check people in and make sure that they had the proper care, as much as you
can expect, and report back to our camp leader.
These Belgians, French, and Poles were able to get outside. Since they were
from occupied countries, they were assigned to work details, and could go into
Krems to pick up things they needed. After I had become acclimated, they
invited me to go along. They dressed me like a Polish soldier, very shabby, and
put me on the back of a wagon. We had decided that if we were stopped for any
reason, I would pretend to be dumb, and they would have to speak for me. A
German staff car pulled up behind us, didn’t cause any problems; they were just
waiting to pass. But after the German car passed, we noticed that my very
bright watch band was showing. It’s remarkable that they didn’t see it. After
that, they took great pride in telling people that I was American, and proving it
by my watch or my dog tags. This was only 1943, but seeing me was like news
that we were on our way to winning the war.
Eventually, another young man was sent to the hospital to replace me, be¬
cause he could speak French. I moved down to the barracks and helped set up
a small clinic, where we could treat people with colds and minor ailments rather
than send them up the hill to the hospital. While I was working up at the
hospital I had been able to smuggle various supplies and hospital things down
to the camp, and we were able to set up a pretty good little clinic. The staff
included a couple of doctors who had been captured in North Africa, and we
were able to screen thirty or forty GIs a day. I put my attention to that job,
which helped a great deal in overcoming the boredom of being a prisoner.
There was a separate room for the staff, so I was in much better straits than
those who were still sleeping on those three-tier bunks.
Ken Kurtenbach, who was from Montana, just naturally took up the posi¬
tion of leader of Stalag 17 — we called him our “conference man.” Kurtenbach
had his advisory committee of certain people; and there was a barracks leader in
every barracks, and he had his people and a chain of command.
We had a big stove that we fed coal or anything, like broken-up furniture
and bed slats. Winters were cold, and getting fuel was very difficult, so once in
a while someone would take a slat our from under one of the mattresses. It
wasn’t uncommon for guys getting in bed to fall through, [laughter] Everybody
used that stove to prepare what little food you had. Once in a while we received
a Red Cross parcel, and it had everything in it they could think of — Spam,
NesCafe, crackers, some kind of margarine; more like condiments than food
. . . but you could trade for potatoes from the Russians or you could trade for
onions. My mother, God bless her, knew I didn’t smoke, but she sent me car¬
tons of cigarettes anyway. She just knew I could do something with them, so I
was rich in that situation.
We had a double fence between our compound and the Russians over which
we could throw things. So we were able to supplement our diets pretty good.
They would deliver these huge pitchers of beet jam to our compound, but we
discovered one day that the Russians thought that the jam was going to the
Germans. They had been doing some awful things to it, and we never knew
until they told us. [laughter]
I dreaded the morning wake-up call, when the guards come roaring into the
barracks, yelling, “Raus mit du! Raus” Everybody had to get dressed in a very
short time and go out in the yard while they checked to see if we were all there.
We were able to cover absences to some extent... to make it look like people
who had gone over the fence were still there. Sometimes we were able to get
Russians to take the place of GIs who had gotten out, because life was better in
our compounds than in theirs.
There were several escape plans, and they were ingenious. We had an escape
committee which had to approve a plan, because attempts could endanger other
people. An escape could cause retribution, so they wanted to be certain it was
viable, and they didn’t want you running into another attempt at the same
time. Probably the most popular method of escape was tunneling, and the earth
beneath the camp was absolutely honey-combed with tunnels, and tunnels run¬
ning into tunnels. But there was a German called “the mole” going around
jamming a big, sharp iron pole in the ground looking for tunnels, which he
“Especially on May 21st”
usually found — I’m not aware that we ever did complete one.
There were other ways to go, too. Sometimes you could get through one gate
into another compound by bribing the guard with cigarettes. Prisoners in some
of the other compounds were working outside the camp. To us, that was simply
an open door. I once started to go with about ten others through gate into the
Russian compound. We were told that the guard had been bribed and was
willing to let us through, but suddenly everything got very tense. It didn’t feel
right, so we all took off. In several escapes like that, the guards would let them
take place, and then they would shoot.
Everybody made the best of being a prisoner. In fact, I even have some nos¬
talgic memories of the camp, the friends I made, and some very funny experi¬
ences with the Germans . . . and some very serious ones, too. The GIs were
quite remarkable in making things work and keeping spirits up and even hav¬
ing fun: One man would come into the barracks and get on a stool and read off
the news for the day; tin smiths would make cups and things for you out of tin;
one guy had a camera, and he secretly photographed life in the compound for
about a year, and put out a little book immediately after he arrived home.
Other guys would work up little shows, which were very well done, because out
of four thousand people, you’re going to find somebody who can do anything,
right? And we started getting parcels from our families at mail call.
We began forming groups of three or four people who would combine all the
food that they gathered and cook together. In one of these combines, a Tennes¬
see guy proceeded to make some home brew by fermenting potatoes. It was
awful! [laughter] When they called roll the following morning, all these drunken
GIs were in the ranks, and their condition was really noticeable. They were
reeling around, and the Germans could not figure out where they had gotten
We were given potatoes and German bread, which was literally one-third
sawdust, but it was satisfactory with our margarine. We were also able to get a
Red Cross parcel once in a while to supplement everything. Although there
were times when we felt deprived, we learned how to ration and work with
what we had so well that we weren’t that bad off. We thought we were badly
treated and deprived, but when we got home and learned what was going on in
Japan, we knew it hadn’t been that bad.
There must have been ten radios in the camp within a year, and we got our
news from BBC. I was invited into a linen room in the hospital late one evening
to listen to a shortwave radio receiving news on the advance of the Russians
from the east. I put tissue paper over a map there, and marked it to show how
the front had advanced. Then this piece of paper, with only a line on it, was
smuggled back to the Lager, where it was placed over a duplicate map to show
where everything stood.
To hide things like radios, we had this big bucket of awful-looking slush,
filled right up to the brim. They very carefully hung it on a hook; and under it,
in a false bottom, was a radio. It was just the sort of thing the Germans would
see and avoid . . . you wouldn’t go near it.
Every once in a while the Germans would pull a surprise raid of the barracks,
looking for anything they could find. Somebody would yell, “Dogs!” and ev¬
erybody would scramble to the top of the bunks. The dogs were vicious, and
they’d have to hold them, but that was the German deterrent. It was always a
bad scene, because we didn’t realize they were coming until they were in the
barracks in the middle of the night. Once in a while they would turn up a map,
maybe a radio, and they would confiscate it. Depending on what it was they
found in your area, you could go in the cooler, which was a cell used to keep
you in isolation until they thought you had learned a lesson, [laughter]
We got to the point where we weren’t so careless, and eventually we were able
to anticipate raids, and even bribe or make friends with guards so we’d be fore¬
warned. The guards realized that we had more than they did. We probably ate
just as well as them, and they were always asking for a cigarette. They really
enjoyed American cigarettes.
It was cold. We had the clothes we were wearing when we got to camp . . .
there must have been an opportunity to get another set of clothes. I think shoes
came in from the Red Cross, because when I got out of the turret, I came out so
fast that I left my shoes behind stuck in the foot controls and bailed out in my
Germany had signed the Geneva Convention, but they adhered to it mostly
by keeping you alive. Later, we learned how German POWs were treated in this
country. I got back soon enough to see it: They ate well, and they even went to
dances, and some of them escaped and melded right into American society and
are still here. I was astonished and angry.
As compared to the prisoners of Japan, very few of us POWs in Europe came
out intimidated or traumatized from being in a prison camp. That may have
been largely because we were able to mingle freely among ourselves and able to
connect with anybody: just go down your street and into a barracks and find a
“Especially on May 21st”
friend, invite him to dinner, [laughter] So, as difficult as the living conditions
were, and as harsh as the punishment would be for various things, it wasn’t that
I got back to the United States in February of 1945, thanks to bronchial
pneumonia I’d contracted earlier. Our camp gathered together the very seri¬
ously injured and impaired, and submitted a list of which ones should be repa¬
triated or traded. By then I had gotten over my pneumonia, but since they had
a record of it, it was decided that I should fake the illness in order to communi¬
cate with the outside on such things as the number of us in camp, the infantry
around, the radio shortwave signals, et cetera. I spent a couple of intensive days
being briefed on information like that. Then a Swiss and German commission
of doctors came through, sitting at long tables, and each one of us presented his
problem. I did my best job of wheezing, and they let me go.
When we were repatriated, several of us were transported through Germany
at the height of air raids. They purposely left us sitting in marshalling yards,
where all the trains arrive and switch cars, and we were sure we were going to
get killed before we got out of there. It’s hard to beat a marshalling yard for a
great target, [laughter]
When we arrived at the Swiss border, the train stopped. We knew we weren’t
safe until we crossed over. After quite a while, the train started to move again,
and when we crossed to Geneva, everybody went crazy, cheering. We were free!
We were going to be well. Nothing else mattered, but we also felt sorrow for all
our friends left behind. Every one of them had given us something to bring
back, something to say to their parents.
Our camp leader, Kenneth Kurtenbach, had told me not to talk to anybody
lower in rank than two majors, because what I knew was so secret and impor¬
tant that he didn’t want it just spewed out. But in debriefing at Marseilles, my
demand to have two majors present did not go over at all! For a while I thought
they had decided to ignore me; but finally they accepted that I was serious, and
they flew me to Washington on priority for debriefing. When I arrived at Walter
Reed Hospital, two majors came in. I was glad they arrived before I forgot
I had lost perhaps ten pounds in captivity, but ten pounds off me was a lot. It
took a while to realize what I’d been through, and to realize how my mother
and relatives regarded me as changed, more serious, contemplative .... I have
said some of the things recorded in this oral history interview before, but I’ve
never gone through the whole story like this. We were all anxious to get on with
our lives, and I glossed everything . . . never filled in some of the details until
Charles Craig. His death continues to haunt me, especially on May 21st. At
the very beginning, I used May 21st as an excuse to go out and get drunk,
[laughter] But I was never sure why I was doing it — whether it was celebration
or remorse. Remembering and talking about it for the record has given me a
different perspective, and I’ve got another theory now about what happened.
Seeing those two men dead, but so composed, just like sleeping, I realize they
weren’t in the crash, because the plane exploded. Auld’s ’chute — he couldn’t
get it on, which I finally realize. I wonder if they tried to go out with one
’chute? It’s possible they decided to cling together and try going down in one
’chute. That’s really far-fetched, I think. Maybe they were just too close to the
ground when they jumped. I’ll never have an answer, but I keep thinking about
it, because Craig was a guy who saved my life and didn’t get out himself.
After the war Mark Curtis returned to Phoenix , where he got a job writing copy for
a radio station. Using his GI Bill, Curtis enrolled in the University of Nevada’s
journalism program in 1949. He graduated in 1951, and went on to a distin¬
guished career in advertising and public relations. Curtis eventually became Vice
President for Public Relations and Advertising for Harrah’s Inc., from which posi¬
tion he retired in 1986. He founded the Sierra Nevada chapter of the Public Rela¬
tions Society of America, and he has long been actively involved in community
affairs through a variety of projects.
“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This
Kind of Brutality”
Ralph Levenberg was born in Clinton, Iowa
on September 12, 1920. When Ralph was
ten, the family moved to Galesburg, Illinois.
He graduated from Galesburg High School
in 1938, and found work as a truck driver
for a wholesale grocery house while attending
the local business college. Fed up with his job,
he joined the Army Air Corps in 1940:
M Y THIRD DAY of basic training was
my last, when the first sergeant
said, “I need a typist.” I never thought there
might come a time when I would need a
gun instead of a typewriter. In fact, I had fired a gun only once in my whole life
before entering the service: When we were kids, a friend of mine had a .410
shotgun, and we went hunting. I brought home a dead rabbit, and my mother
explained that unless we were going to eat the rabbit, it was against our religion
to kill it.
In October 1940 I was transferred to the 17th Pursuit Squadron and headed
to Manila in the Philippine Islands. We were loaded on railroad trains, and the
shades were kept drawn from Detroit to San Francisco, because the military did
not want to alert people along the route that carloads of soldiers were going
somewhere. I recall that in Reno we were allowed to get off the train and stretch,
but I think we lost three people there, [laughter] With the help of the military
police, they finally rejoined us.
When we got to Hawaii, only the officers and some of the non-coms were
allowed to go into Honolulu. All day long, nothing but ammunition was loaded
on our ship. Our destination was Nichols Field, which was a suburb of Manila.
Then from June to October of 1941, we were stationed at Iba for air-to-ground
gunnery maneuvers. There we got the first P-40s, and our pilots were just like
kids with toys in these state-of-the-art fighter airplanes. By the time we re¬
turned to Nichols Field, we were getting war nerves because of the constant air
raid warning tests and the training to man machine guns.
On the 8th of December (we were across the international dateline) we were
told Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Two nights later a lone Japanese bomber
hit one of our hangars on the flight line, which was quite a distance from our
barracks. The next day, as a group of our airplanes were landing to refuel, here
came the Japanese dive bombers and Zeros. They caught six or seven of our
airplanes right in their landing patterns. This was my first actual experience of
a war situation, and every bomb and every bullet sounded like it had my name
on it! We were out in the fields, wherever we could hide, but no matter where
you are, you’re in the wrong place. It was a harrowing situation; it scared the
hell out of me. They strafed and bombed for a good thirty minutes, but it
seemed like a whole day. [laughter]
When the attack was over, our brand new barracks were ruined, and all of
our uniforms hanging in the lockers were full of bullet holes. I didn’t get any¬
thing out of there other than the clothing I had on my back. We had lost almost
all of our airplanes, and those that were left were dispersed to other airfields
throughout the Philippine Islands. Our commanding officer — Boyd “Buzz”
Wagner, a West Point graduate and one of the first aces in World War II — had
been blinded when a shell hit his cockpit in a dog fight over Manila, and he had
to be talked down by radio to land safely. Dependents and those who were
severely injured were loaded onto a mercy ship, and the Japanese allowed that
one ship to get out.
On Christmas Eve we were evacuated from Manila by inter-island steamer
to an airfield on the Bataan Peninsula about thirty-five kilometers south of
where the main fighting was going on. We had one airplane, a P-35, and our
mechanics were like a bunch of tailors sewing up a wounded thing in order to
keep it flying. Our one pilot who stayed with us flew up and down the coast
getting whatever information he could for us and for the command. Then we
joined the 71st Philippine Provisional Group, and everybody — quartermas¬
ters, infantry, finance, cooks and bakers, signal corps, medics — was formed
into infantry companies and issued weapons, [laughter] I was issued a .30 cali¬
ber Springfield Rifle, made in 1918, and a bandolier of ammunition. We heard
that the Japs had landed some eighty troop transports filled with soldiers.
As we lined up to go into the jungle and locate snipers, I spotted this .45
caliber Tommy gun and grabbed it. I didn’t know what the hell I had or how to
“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This Kind of Brutality”
operate it, but I had seen in the movies how these things could mow down
anybody. The jungle had no pathways; we were making our own paths, and it
was more like a tiger hunt where you’re making all kinds of noise to find what
you’re looking for. We went all the way to the sea and never found a thing. We
were resting in this ravine, trying to figure out whether to return, when one of
our guys thought he spotted something, so he put his rifle in a fork of a little
tree and fired. The whole ravine opened up! The Japs had been just sitting there
I ate sand for five hours. I mean, we dug ... we, oh God! It was just terrible.
They had us pinned and darkness came, and we had a major who had absolutely
no idea what he was there for. Fortunately we had two ex-infantry guys who
knew what the hell to do. They sent out point people and told them how to
signal us. After about three hours of crawling on our bellies, and not making
any sound, we could hear the Japs having a good time, because they figured
they got us. We got out of there, and I didn’t even get to use my guns. They
were left behind. One guy got nicked, but I am amazed we didn’t lose half of
We were on Bataan on beach defense when, on the eighth of April 1942, we
got a message from Corregidor: The next morning we were to turn our rifle
barrels down, get any kind of white cloth we could to show that we were surren¬
dering, and go to this one point at Cabcaben Air Field and turn our weapons
over. We were being surrendered to the enemy and I guess at that moment we
all felt some sense of relief. I had one .30 caliber bullet left and nowhere to get
anything else; we had been on one-quarter rations and less since the middle of
March; we were emaciated; and we had just quinine and aspirin left for medical
supplies. We knew that the Japanese were winning this war. No American air¬
planes were flying around us anymore; everything we could hear was Japanese.
Our ships ... we didn’t have any ships. It was a period of desperation.
You think, “Jesus, if you surrender, at least you’re not going to get shot at
anymore, and maybe you’re going to get fed. Then maybe this thing will be
over real quick.” But after it sinks in, and you really figure out what’s happen¬
ing, it seems like the world crashes in on you. It’s the most difficult thing to
describe .... There is a feeling of emptiness. Everything was gone. Grown men
cried, especially the older men who had had some experience in the world. But
I was twenty-one years old, and just felt nervous. I had never even seen a Jap —
seen them out in the water, seen dead ones, but didn’t know what they were
Very few of us slept at all that night. In the morning, we were told to line up
and march, and as we were marching away, we took the bolts out of our rifles
and threw them into the sea, so they weren’t any good. “Well, hey, let’s not
make it easy for these guys!”
We arrived at Cabcaben Air Field, which was a great large space on Bataan.
Many other squadrons and other companies arrived, and we were all putting
our weapons in piles. We had nothing. You could see it in the faces of the
infantry guys, who had been up on the line fighting for two and a half months.
They looked so gaunt — they looked like they were prisoners already. It was
mass confusion. Nobody, the Japs or the Americans, knew what the hell to do
After a while, we were formed into groups of one hundred, four abreast, and
we were marched off. We had maybe three guards marching with us. We hadn’t
gone very far when a Jap soldier pulled me out of line. I had a pair of rimless
prescription eyeglasses tinted for the sun that I used to wear to play golf. He
reached for these glasses, and I said, “No, no.” He slapped me, tried them on,
realized he couldn’t see and was going to smash them, when this big Jap officer
yelled, “ Ku-dohV ”
The guy just froze at attention. The officer handed my glasses back to me
and said in perfect English, “You best put these away, because you are going to
need them for a long time.” Well, I was breathing more easily. Then he turned
around, unbuckled a short saber in a leather sheath, and he started to beat that
guy in the face. He beat him until he knocked him unconscious. Then he
turned right around to me and very gruffly told me to get back in line, and said,
“You know, we do have discipline,” and walked away. But it was ^/zWdiscipline
to those people.
We walked for that whole day, and the guards would change about every
three or four hours. One guard group made us take off anything we had on our
head. This was our first experience with the heinous atrocities. It was terribly
hot. April is one of the hottest and driest months in the Philippines — 110,
120 degrees in the shade. Our guys started to drop. Those of us who could keep
going tried to help those who couldn’t. If you got a decent guard, he would
allow you to put a soldier against a tree trunk, or he would stop a truck and load
all of those that were sick onto the truck. But you didn’t have guards like that all
the time. At nightfall we were pulled off the road to an area where one of our
squadrons had bivouacked before. They let us sleep for a couple of hours ....
By morning, everybody’s running out of water, but Bataan has many artesian
wells just spewing out of the ground. We were thirst-crazed, and some of the
“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This Kind of Brutality”
prisoners would just break ranks and go after the water. Well, that’s the best way
to get shot or beheaded or bayonetted, because the Japanese were on edge all
the time and wouldn’t let us get to that water. We finally stopped where we
could fill our canteens from a creek. The creek was full of dead bodies and
horses. This is where some chlorine vials I had found before we surrendered
came in handy, but a lot of guys got dysentery and all kinds of diseases from
We met this group of rotten, terrible bastards — horse cavalry — on trucks
that were coming down Bataan. One of their favorite things was to take their
big, blacksnake whips and try to get somebody around the neck and drag them.
They got plenty of them. They’d take pot shots at guys, or they’d take pot shots
at the Filipinos lined up along the road watching us going by.
We were given nothing to eat; the only food we got was slipped to us by
Filipinos along the road, or it was food we had on us when we surrendered. I
was lucky — one night we slept in a former American bivouac area, and I
found hundreds of squares of chocolate that had been discarded out of old C-
rations. I just picked them up and put them in my gas mask carrier. That was
food for me. (We also marched through various barrios where Filipinos watched
as we marched by. When they had the opportunity, they would throw food
wrapped in banana leaves to us. If they got caught by the Japanese, they were
severely punished and most of the time shot.)
The second night there another guy and I were pulled out by the Japanese
guard and taken into a barrio. The Japs had taken all the people in these little
villages and moved them into the small central parks that each village had. The
guard took us to a hut where a girl, who looked about eighteen years old, was in
the throes of having a baby. He made motions for us to take her out where the
other people were, and we figured, “Well, that’s good. The people can help
her.” We made a makeshift hammock and took her out.
This gal was ready have her baby, and women moved around her and tried to
help her. A Japanese sergeant was walking around, hitting men with the butt of
his rifle. He was drunk and just making sure that everybody knew he was “the
big man.” This sergeant just pushed the women all away. He found a piece of
wire and tied the gal’s legs together at her thighs. She was screaming at the top
of her voice, and then he takes his bayonet out and hits her right between the
breasts and cuts her open in front of everybody. Now, this other American and
I were not about to stand around and see what the Japs might do to us, so we
slowly made our way back into the line of march. I know those two Japs didn’t
last very long, because you could see it in the eyes of the Filipinos. They prob-
ably followed them wherever they went and made sure that they got them.
That was the first atrocious crime that we saw, other than the beheading of
our own people. That happened all along the march, not just with our group.
You could see bodies strewn all over. Nothing in my life had prepared me for
this kind of brutality. You had to shut it off, and just get through one day at a
time. You had to, because ... it was almost like a dream, like you were going to
wake up one of these days and none of this happened. But we made it through,
through one thing and another.
The most memorable thing of the march was ... as we were walking, all of
a sudden the group spread as if there was something in the road. It was a body
that had been run over many times by tanks and trucks, but still retained the
full imprint of a soldier with his arms spread out. Even the Japanese respected
it, and would not cause the troops to walk over it. That image seemed to be
reaching out to everybody that walked by. Everybody who was on the march
will tell you of that particular thing. They did not remove it, as far as I know,
during the whole march.
I had a will to live and to return to my folks. I wanted to survive. I didn’t
want to die. I had taken care of myself, didn’t smoke or drink much, and was
very athletic from playing golf and swimming: and that’s why I survived. As a
Boy Scout, I had learned to put a clean little pebble under my tongue to ward
off thirst, and that really worked. With a full canteen of water . . . when you
don’t know when you will get more, you sip and you preserve everything you
can. We would buddy with someone for survival. We were not an army any¬
more, just people bunched together to survive.
I thought about scrambled eggs and toast, dreamed about things like that. I
was also praying — you find yourself praying to a god that you never thought
about before. I kept the images of my folks and my brother and sister in mind
. . . it was as if in the next hour or so, I was going to see them. We were all
delirious in some manner or other. After marching almost ninety-five kilome¬
ters in six days, we ended up in San Fernando where there was a railhead.
There, we were crowded into a penned area, and the Japs gave us our first meal
— a dirty, cold ball of rice. Then they loaded us on steel boxcars for a two-hour
drive to Capas. It was hot in there, and the bodies of those who died in transit
were still standing when they opened the doors, because it was crammed that
I had a brand new pair of shoes when the Death March started; the best GI
shoes ever made. They were very soft. When the march was over I had to tie
“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This Kind of Brutality”
those shoes real tight around my ankles because they didn’t have any soles or
heels on them. Just wore them right off.
Our first prison camp was Camp O’Donnell. That was a horrendous situa¬
tion. We were put in nipa huts with no flooring, about sixty people to a hut,
with probably about seven to eight thousand in camp at any one time. The
incidence of disease rose very quickly — outbreaks of dysentery, malaria. We
had no sanitation at all. Most of the water was taken from the rivers near by,
which were just loaded with dead horses and even dead people. We had one
water spigot for public water retrieval. Every day, each barracks would assign
one guy who would take canteens from everybody to get the water. We used to
line up for hours to fill our canteens, but the water would be turned off and on
at the whim of the Jap guard who was in charge at the spigot.
They had to feed us, but we got only two meals a day. What they were
feeding us at the time was a sort of gruel in the morning, something like oatmeal,
but it was made of rice and was called lougau. There was no taste to it, and we
had no sugar or salt. Then they started to give us cooked rice in the evening.
The cooked rice sometimes would have vegetables like the greens off of potato
vines. They would make almost a gravy out of it, so you could put it on the rice.
I don’t remember ever getting meat.
The guys were getting sicker and sicker, and there was no medication ....
We had burial details, and we would bury thirty to fifty guys a day in one hole.
The best way to get away from that was to volunteer for work details. So, after
fifteen days at Camp O’Donnell, I went to work on a detail with 190 people to
rebuild a fourteen-span bridge. We had to do it all by hand.
We had sixteen-man details to cut these huge timbers and carry them out of
the timberland to be used as crossbeams and things for the bridge. My assign¬
ment was sitting in very swift water: a steel beam of the bridge had fallen under
the water when it was bombarded, and they gave me a hacksaw to cut that with,
[laughter] That didn’t do me any good. As long as we worked, we got decent
food — palmettoes, mangos and papaya grow wild over there — and every
once in a while we’d get some fish heads or some pieces of fish left over from the
That detail lasted forty-five days, and we lost ninety men either through
accidents or just out-and-out death. Two men escaped, and for a full twenty-
four hours we had to sit in a school yard where we were encamped — they
didn’t feed us, didn’t do anything. After twenty-four hours a Japanese officer
came in, supposedly from Manila, and he made the announcement that the
two men had been captured and beheaded. That’s when they instituted ten-
man squads with the order that if any one person escaped from that ten, the
other nine would get shot. Strangely enough, after our detail was over we were
taken to a camp called Cabanatuan, and the two guys that had escaped were
back in there. They were just as alive as hell.
Cabanatuan was a large camp at the farm that fed practically the whole Japa¬
nese army in southeast Asia. The camp was a big enclosure with barbed wire
and larger huts. They were two-tiered, and we had bamboo slats to sleep on —
upper and lower berths, and each person had a particular area where he could
sleep. We had blankets that were ... rags, really. We had probably one hundred
men to each of those things. By that time Corregidor had fallen, so we had the
rest of the people who had surrendered to the Japs — at one time we had over
12,000 in that camp. We were issued one outfit of blue denims (a jacket and a
pair of pants), a G-string and a pair of shoes like a tennis shoe with two toes.
We ate better at Cabanatuan than we had before, because we used to get all
of the vines and everything from the farm. Every once in a while we’d get a little
more by scrounging, and we’d always turn it in to the kitchen. I worked on the
farm with about three thousand men. Every day you worked unless you were
sick enough to be hospitalized, and you had to be damn sick to be hospitalized!
I had dengue fever, bone-break fever, which is probably the worst kind of tropi¬
cal fever that you can get. It feels like your bones are breaking in every part of
your body — from the top of your head to the bottoms of your feet, you ache
all the time. I had malaria nineteen different times, with the chills and fevers,
but the Japanese finally started feeding us a teaspoon full of raw quinine to try
and quell that stuff. I don’t think they cared whether we died, as long they
could get rid of us.
In Cabanatuan, three officers tried to escape. They were put outside the gate,
made to kneel, and their hands were tied behind them for three days. Every¬
body that went by was required to hit them with a stick or whatever. And then,
after that three days, the whole camp was called together to witness their be¬
heading. Well, hell, they were practically dead by then — they hadn’t had any¬
thing to eat or drink. But beheadings, that was a proud thing for the Japanese to
do .. . they actually vied for the opportunity to do that.
Marine Colonel Curtis Beecher was the American camp commandant, and
he was a marvelous guy — the type of commander anybody would serve under.
Working on the farm was a young Marine who had a perpetual smile on his
face. He was just born with it. As we were going home from work one evening,
“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This Kind of Brutality”
he was looking right into the sun, and one of the Japanese guards thought he
was laughing at him. He drew him aside, took a split bamboo stick, and started
beating this guy in the face with it until he beat his face to shreds, and then
The Marines picked this guy up, and they carried him directly to the camp
commandants office. After the medics had treated him a little bit, Colonel
Beecher carried him in his arms to the Japanese commandant’s headquarters.
He kicked the door open, walked in, and laid this guy down. The guy was really
suffering, in bad pain. Beecher told the Japanese commandant if an incident
like that ever happened again, he would turn every Marine prisoner loose and
give them authority to kill everybody... every Jap in that camp. And he meant
everything he was saying! Well, we never saw the guy that beat that kid again.
They toed the mark for a while after that.
There were so many incidents .... If you wanted to conjure up what
happened, hell, you could spend hours and hours talking about various things.
I have always worked to get them out of my mind, and I’ve always tried to get
others who were there to forget these things. You’re never going to forget them,
but don’t let them linger in your mind . . . because, you know, there’s still life
I stayed at Cabanatuan until November of 1943, about fifteen months, and
then went on a detail to Manila. We were housed in Bilibid prison, and worked
in the Texaco oil fields and on the docks. We were billeted in a hospital, where
the sick people only got half rations because “they had to concentrate on getting
well.” That was the Japanese attitude. We worked for the youngest colonel in
the Japanese Imperial Air Force — an Oxford graduate, believe it or not — and
when he saw the food that they were giving us for working fifteen hours a day,
he was very angry. He said, “You work for me; I will see that you are fed prop¬
erly.” And he did. For the first time we had some meat, some food that gave us
The Texaco oil field was the source of aviation gas for the Japanese Imperial
Air Force. We would unload empty fifty-five-gallon drums from ships, take
them and put log chains inside of them. Then we’d roll them and knock all the
gook out of the inside to clean them out before taking them to a line where
gasoline was pumped back into them. We would pour anything we could get
our hands on into the barrel as the gasoline was going in — dust and dirt and
steel shavings — anything that we thought would clog up the gas filters of their
airplanes. We also broke a lot of those drums, and they were irreplaceable,
because they had gotten them from the British and from us. We would roll the
gasoline-filled drums off the trucks onto a brick pavement, supposedly onto an
airplane tire. We missed that tire about three times out of a full truckload,
spreading gasoline all over to soak into the pier, and sometime later the Filipino
guerrillas burned that pier down. We also worked on the docks, and we were
doing as much sabotage there as we could. On a bomb-loading detail, where we
took hundred-pound bombs that were in crates and loaded them on ships, we’d
reach in and bust the fins on the bombs, because they’re very pliable.
We had three officers on our detail, and one always stayed at the barracks site
to ensure that the guys who were ill had a medic. One officer went with each
detail as arbitrator in case there was some problem between people. We often
had a bit of unrest between the prisoners — after all, you weren’t the happiest
group of people! Some guys would find something that they could steal, like
sugar or rice on the docks, and they wouldn’t tell anyone else how they got it, or
they wouldn’t guard while others got it. Men used to steal from each other, food
or other things. When they got caught, instead of having a fight, the officer
would call a kangaroo court. One officer served as a judge, and four or five
people would be chosen from a section of sixty people to sit and discuss this
Most of the offenses were minor, and once a guy was caught at it, he didn’t
do it again. The only serious one that we had occurred later in Japan, where an
individual was detailed to be the orderly for the camp commandant. He was
telling the Japanese commandant everything that went on in our barracks. For
instance, he told the commandant that we had Japanese newspapers and trans¬
lators from the British Army who would spread the news. He was a rat! The
punishment meted out to him was silent treatment. Nobody among the hun¬
dred and fifty guys in the American barracks spoke to him for the rest of the
time we were in camp, and he practically went nuts. Then, when we got home,
depositions made him out as a kind of spy, and he was probably court-martialed.
Many of our guys were ingenious, like the two fellows who were radio men
and built radio receivers, one in a mess kit and one in a canteen bottle. The one
was the driver of a Japanese general, quartered in the garage with the car that he
drove for the general. He could do whatever he wanted in his free time, and he
used to get radio broadcasts from all over and would funnel what little informa¬
tion that he got to the camp. And, you know, we finally got word of what was
happening. The other fellow had his radio receiver in a canteen and got KGO,
“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This Kind of Brutality”
a radio station from San Francisco. Every night he gave us a report of how the
war was going, so we weren’t totally lost.
We got one shipment of mail when a Swedish ship came into Manila in 1943
with Red Cross parcels and bags of mail. I received five letters, and got one
package that my mother had sent earlier on. The letters were a direct link for us,
because they told us there was somebody back home waiting. They were mo-
rale-building at the time. Of course, after you finished reading those letters you
couldn’t write back. It was kind of a letdown not to be able to write back and
find out what really was going on. They gave us little pre-printed postcards, and
you would check off: “I am well . . . .” And they would allow you to make a
statement, “And give my regards to” or “say hello to .. . ,” and then you’d sign
your name. It did tell what prison camp you were in at the time.
For a while, I got a job as the lone POW working in an old cigar manufactur¬
ing plant. I worked for a sergeant who had been wounded in 1937 in China,
and wanted the prestige of having a POW working for him. That was the best
break I ever had, because he used to get an extra ration of rice for me every day.
Before that we were getting about six hundred grams of food a day, and I was
probably down to a hundred pounds.
I was in the Bilibid camp from November 1943 until July 1944. Then I was
transferred to a prison camp in Japan. To get from Manila to Japan, we had to
ride those luxurious “Hell Ships.” [laughter] This was as bad as, if not worse
than, the Death March, because there were nine hundred bodies in a place no
more than fifty-foot square. One would sit; the other would lie in the lap of
another one. It would be like, you have your legs up and another guy’s head
right in your crotch. Then he would have his legs up, and another guy’s in his
crotch. Then the other half would stand up for twelve hours, and then you’d
take turns sitting down. Thirty-three days on that ship. As far as I know, only
one person died.
There were seventeen ships in our convoy when we left Manila. The first
night out, an oil tanker on one side of us got blown up. It’s not very comforting
to be in the hold of a ship with the hatches battened down, knowing that things
are blowing up around you. [laughter]
Each day they would lower food down to us. It was mostly barley cooked in
pork grease, and it was horrible, because we didn’t have any water. You ate this
stuff, and it made you thirsty. They would lower some water to us, but they
didn’t have that much water for the whole ship.
All the human waste went in a pickle barrel, and they would raise it up every
morning. The Japs had a field day with this. They would raise it up topside, and
then start swinging it over us, spilling half of it out. Then they would wash us
all down with sea water, which hurt, because there was a lot of pressure in those
We got to Taiwan, which was then Formosa, and they put us in another hold
while they loaded the ship all day. It was terribly hot, and people were suffocat¬
ing. They finally let some of us go up on deck. As we pulled out that night, the
captain allowed the hatches to remain open — the first time ever. It was a
gorgeous moonlit, starlit night, but we were in bad shape. Father Riley, who
was our chaplain, got up and said, “Fellows, we’re going to pray for rain.” Of
course, you could hear the snickers and the murmurs. “I don’t give a damn who
you are or what you are, we’re going to pray for rain. And you’re all going to
follow me.” Everybody respected him, so we prayed for rain, and in about
twenty minutes the sky opened up. For about twenty or thirty minutes it just
poured down. We caught water in every container that you could imagine, and
we drank that water, and we cleaned ourselves. It was marvelous, a blessing.
Those who are familiar with the sea will tell you there are rain squalls all the
time, but there wasn’t a single atheist in the hold of that ship that night!
We landed in Moji, and we were fed a pretty decent meal — kind of like a
box lunch with rice and fruit. Then they marched us from the docks to the
train through the town, and the people came out and spat at us. We ended up
in Nagoya, which was the Pittsburgh of Japan, a very highly industrialized area.
We worked for the locomotive repair shops. I had the job of working in the
kitchen, boiling water for soup — wasn’t a very hard job. We got an eight-
ounce loaf of rice bread a day and watered-down soup. We were surviving, and
we knew that the war had turned around, because we were able to steal a Japa¬
nese newspaper everyday.
In March of’45, the American bombers started coming over. About the first
of April, we had a firebomb raid, and they came in from seven o’clock one night
until seven o’clock the next day — just absolute continuous firebombing. It lit
up the skies, and, hell, we could look up and see the open bomb bays on the
airplanes flying in. It burned Nagoya almost to the ground. We were outside of
the city about ten miles, so we were in a pretty good position to watch this
thing. They wouldn’t even let us go into town to work for at least two weeks
because of the devastation.
“Nothing Had Prepared Me For This Kind of Brutality”
Then, the first of August, we had a tremendous air raid. They always took us
back to the camp during air raids, and I was the last man out of the camp,
because I had to lock up the kitchen. By the time I got to the street car there was
no room, and I was hanging on the back of it. The Japanese were especially
nervous. The planes were coming, and this honcho wanted me inside, and he
started to beat me with a “honcho club,” which is like an axe handle. I lost
consciousness and don’t remember anything that happened to me until they
carried me out of camp on the third of September. I had laid in camp for a
month, going in and out of consciousness from the pain. The Japanese doctor
and our doctor had gone to school together in Germany years before, so he was
able to get some morphine, but that was about all he could do for me.
When they took me out of the camp and put me on an American hospital
ship, I weighed seventy-two pounds, and I couldn’t walk. I got home on about
the third of October, 1945.1 flew to Moline, Illinois, which is thirty miles from
Galesburg, in a DC-3, and my folks were all there. When I got off the airplane,
I was still limping with a cane, and it was ... it was a shaky time. I was nervous
about seeing my parents. I hadn’t seen them in five years. I had gone through a
lot, and I knew they had gone through a hell of a lot.
Ralph Levenberg is one of many survivors of the Bataan Death March and three
years and six months of imprisonment by the Japanese during WWII. He has suf¬
fered a lifetime of pain and back problems from the severe beatings he received at the
hands of the Japanese. After a period of eight months hospitalization he re-enlisted
in the U.S. Army Air Force and was later commissioned in the United States Air
Force. Levenberg retired from military service in April, 1961. He was then em¬
ployed by the United States Civil Service and spent some fifteen years with the U.S.
Army and U.S. Navy Departments in the Security, Intelligence and Investigative
services. Ralph Levenberg retired in October, 1974 and settled in Carson City, Ne¬
vada. He volunteers at the V.A. Medical Center in Reno as the prisoner of war
consultant, and he also is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Former
Prisoners of War which was mandated by the U.S. Congress.
“The Surf Turned Red”
Charles Harton was bom in Oakland Cali¬
fornia, May 11, 1925■ His parents divorced
when he was a child, and Harton was raised
by his mother, who lived with relatives dur¬
ing the Great Depression. Even before gradu¬
ating from Vallejo High School, he joined the
Marine Corps and was sent to boot camp at
O H, GOD, BOOT CAMP was like walking right off this planet! The ordeal
was just never-ending, and you were in absolute fear of your life the
whole time. You bitched to your buddies at night, but you didn’t complain to
anybody else; you just did it, no matter what. You were afraid to fail — abso¬
lutely a deathly fear of not making it, not getting through with the platoon.
Oh, that was awful to think about, so everybody helped each other and it ended
up being a great time.
Boot camp is an experience that no Marine ever forgets, and most Marines
never forget their drill instructors — they were getting us ready to go fight a
war after just eight weeks at boot camp. A lot of our drill instructors had been
on Guadalcanal, and they would tell you sea stories that would curl your hair. I
thought, “Oh, geez, just... I can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait! Give me my rifle.
Let me go!” The physical demands didn’t bother me so much, but the mental
aspect got to you, you know. There was absolutely no privacy at any time. You
stood in line to go to the bathroom, and whether you were showering or going
to the bathroom or in your tent or a Quonset hut, it was always with a bunch of
people. It didn’t take long to get used to that, and after a while it was OK,
because all of these guys were friends — your buddies. But everything was
huckledy-buck — like once our DIs came off liberty about half drunk, and
they decided to break us all out and drill us for a while. They ran us around that
drill field until we dropped, until they had everybody in the platoon sitting
down or lying down or out.
We were one of the first platoons to get an M-l rifle, which made us all mad,
because we wanted the ’03. It doesn’t take you long when you join the Marine
Corps to try to get salty, which means acting like you’ve been in there a long
time. Oh, we envied these guys that could talk about going through boot camp
with an ’03. [laughter]
At the end of boot camp everybody got different assignments, and I went up
to Camp Mathews because I was a good shot. I wound up at the rifle range as a
coach for about six months. It was great duty, because you’re the boss: and it’s
kind of fun to teach them to be good shooters. Of course, it also made a better
shot out of me. Once in a while you’d say, “Now, wait a minute, kid. Let me
show you how to do this,” and you better hit what you were talking about so
you don’t look like a dummy. Afterwards, I could do things with a rifle in the
off-hand position that I would have needed the prone position to do a month
By now you had had time enough to get a little bit nervous about going into
combat, wondering how you’re going to react. While you’re in boot camp, whoo-
wee, you know, just let me at them! Once you’re out, you’re thinking, “Wow,
maybe this might not be such a hot idea.” [laughter]
After Camp Mathews I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, where one of the
big things to do was to steal a jeep. You could start one easy until the drivers
started taking the rotors out of the distributor. Well, it didn’t take long for
somebody to come up with a spare rotor, [laughter] Anyway, this kid in the
squad, he stole a jeep this one day and said, “Why don’t we go hunting?” So we
all grabbed our rifles and took off. Now, Camp Pendleton is a big place, and we
were way back up in the mountains, in a meadow, and the jeep got bogged
down. We couldn’t get it out! We were miles from anywhere, so we took off
hiking and finally got down to the main road through the camp at one o’clock
in the morning. Here comes a jeep with a lieutenant in it. He loads us up and
takes us in. We walk into the squad bay, and the duty corporal has already got a
chaser waiting for us, because all three of us were supposed to go on watch at
midnight. It is now about two in the morning and they march us straight to the
We spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday in the brig there, and that was
the toughest three days I ever spent anywhere. I never got beat up so much!
They had guys in there for murder, desertion . . . oh, it was awful! We weren’t
fighting back; they were just beating on us. And when they weren’t doing it, the
“The SurfTurned Red”
guards were, [laughter] Tough brig. They’d make a Christian out of you in a
Monday morning were standing there in front of the colonel, and he is just
chewing on us something terrible. The worst thing he said was, “And I know
what you’re doing: you’re trying to keep from going into combat with your
“Oh, Jesus! No, Sir! No, no! We want to go! [laughter] Give us combat; don’t
give us the brig!” He really nailed us to the wall, but he didn’t give us any more
brig time. We went back to our outfit, and two days later we were aboard ship
and shoo — gone! That’s the only time I really got in any serious trouble. I’ve
been in trouble a couple other times, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. Noth¬
ing that hurt your career, and that was the important part.
When the 4th Division was all put together at Camp Pendleton, we left the
United States and went directly into combat and made an amphibious landing
in the Marshall Islands. The advance party made sure everything was set up
right at Maui. Then the main outfit came over, and then the rear echelon came
along with all of the leftovers. I wound up in the rear echelon, so I didn’t make
the landing in the Marshalls. When the division came back to Hawaii, we re¬
joined our companies and started training for Saipan and Tinian. We did it all
on a daily basis — squad, platoon, company — and it all culminated with a big
ten-day division exercise out in the field. Then we went aboard ship and let the
sailors practice with us — get in the landing boats every day, and just circle and
circle and make skirmish lines, which go toward the shore in a circle. We’d have
to sit in those boats all day long just breathing that diesel exhaust, getting sea¬
When we left Maui to go to Saipan, we stopped at Pearl Harbor first for a
little liberty. We tied up alongside the Oklahoma ; it was sitting on the bottom.
The Arizona was behind us, and they had gangways from our ship down onto
the sunken Oklahoma, and then from the Oklahoma over onto Ford Island.
When we didn’t have anything to do, we’d go down on the Oklahoma and climb
around inside of it. In those compartments way underneath there, they’d find
remains. They’d bring them up and put them in a cardboard ration box up on
deck that had bones in it. That was really bad . . . kind of eerie, just before we
left to go to Saipan.
The tactics of the Japanese were to let the initial waves come in and get piled
up on the beach, and then start artillery fire on the beach. So we landed under
a lot of artillery. That’s when the Marine Corps wised up to the fact that you
didn’t waste much time on the beach. Once the ramp went down on that boat,
you got ashore and kept going. Our battalion was about maybe the seventh,
eighth, or ninth wave. I was scared, but you didn’t want anybody else to see
your real emotions. The first time you go into combat, you have all of these
different pictures in your mind as to what it’s going to be like ... but you don’t
really know until you trip over your first dead body or hear a bullet whistle by
your ear for the first time. Then all of a sudden you’re in the real world. But
you’re there, and you’re going to make the best of it.
I had a vest that had three rows of pockets, four or five across, and you put
grenades in them. It was heavy, but we just loved everything and would load
ourselves down. Later on, you knew how much you could safely carry, but you
never wanted to run out. Same way with water. Water discipline was a big thing
in those days: it was almost a court-martial offense if you drank more than a
canteen of water a day.
Going in, we dumped our packs on the beach, then picked up our rifle and
ammunition and grenades and took off. Food and blankets — that has to come
to you. And where we were, we didn’t need to worry about any sleeping accom¬
modations. You just lay out on the ground, slept like a baby ... I mean, if you
can get sleep at all. The first few days on Saipan, it was so hot you could barely
pick up a clod of dirt. Even the rain was warm.
After about twenty-six days, when we had secured the island, we went up to
Marpi Point at the north end of it. Here we saw the Japanese forces and civil¬
ians killing themselves — hundreds of them literally committing suicide. We
were bivouacked behind a hundred-foot cliff of volcanic rock above them. Be¬
low us, the lava evened off at just above sea level, and then there was another
little step down to sea level where the waves would wash over, just white. This
lava had formed huge pockets, all over-grown with brush, and it had caves
underneath. It was full of Japanese, just full of them. The Japanese army people
maintained the civilians that were there, including the women and the kids and
We sat there for five or six days watching bunches of people commit suicide
in groups. Some people just jumped into the ocean — maybe twenty-five, thirty
people. They’d walk out to where the surf was washing over the lava rock and
get in a tight group. I’m assuming they were praying, because you could hear
them chanting something. And then all of a sudden, there was a muffled ka-
whoom, and the surf turned red for the next half hour. They used grenades and
“The Surf Turned Red”
mines and that kind of thing. The people on the outside edges, the concussion
might have hurt them, but it didn’t kill them, so they’d jump into the ocean.
Pretty soon the water’d start running white again, and later on another group
would go out there.
It was weird. I didn’t really feel any sympathy for them — because they were
the enemy: so, “who cared?” But we were trying to persuade them not to do it.
I mean, that was just a natural reaction for us. We were throwing cigarettes,
food and water to them, and we had interpreters up there with bullhorns talk¬
ing to them. We used a couple of captured Japanese to tell them, “Hey, I’m so-
and-so, and they’re treating me OK. Come on out.” But we didn’t save a soul —
not a single person out of five or six hundred.
As bad as this was, it was the tail end of the mass suicides in Saipan. There
had been many, many more who had killed themselves off the cliff, the Regular
Army guys and their families. Saipan was the first Japanese territory that we
took during the war. Everything else up until that point we had taken back for
the Dutch or the Australians or somebody: but on Saipan, the Japanese garrison
had been there for years. The soldiers had raised their families there, and whole
families would jump off the cliff. That happened before we got there.
After ... it seemed like forever, but finally there were no more. The sad part
about it is that after sitting at Marpi Point all that time watching that mess, a
couple of guys from our platoon were down there mopping up, and they were
killed by snipers who were still back in the caves. After that, you’d hear a shot go
off in the cave. The Japanese soldier had just shot his last Marine, and then he
When we finished with Marpi Point, we were thinking, “Ah, well, it’s over.
The flag’s up, la-di-da. Gee, we’re all finished.” Instead they turn us around,
and we form a skirmish line, and we walk back down the whole length of that
island, [laughter] Mop it up some more. That gave us a chance to hunt for
more souvenirs — swords and pistols.
When I landed on Saipan I was a rifleman, and that’s low man on the totem
pole; but by the end of the operation I was a BAR man because of casualties.
When a BAR man gets hit you have to take up his BAR, because it’s a more
important weapon than the M-l.
On the southern end of Saipan, you look right across and see Tinian. In
maybe two weeks we went aboard LSTs and landed on Tinian. That was a really
good operation — slick, because everybody just knew what to do: I knew what
you were going to do; you knew what I was going to do under a certain set of
circumstances. It was teamwork. The Japanese probably didn’t think it was the
Marine Corps landing; it was too well organized. (Usually we confused them,
because we’d be so screwed up.) [laughter] We landed on two small beaches,
each just wide enough for one tractor to come in at a time. They thought we
would land on some good beaches on the other side of the island, so we didn’t
have any real resistance until that night when they counter-attacked with tanks
and artillery and mortars. But we stopped them.
After forty-five days of combat, our company went aboard a cargo ship rigged
to carry prisoners. We took a load of Japanese prisoners back to Hawaii, dropped
them off at Pearl Harbor, and then we went over to Maui to start training again.
Replacements came in to build the company back up to strength. (Our com¬
pany was about 125 men, but we’d get up to about 200, because we would have
heavy weapons attached to us, mortars and machine gun sections.) The replace¬
ments were just nobody until they’d also been shot at. It’s funny how that estab¬
lishes a caste system, [laughter] They bivouacked right across from us, and the
word got around, “Well, these are your replacements.”
You’re looking across the street at some guy who may take your place. In the
4th Marine Division we all wore an insignia on our utility jackets — like a half
moon with a number that represented your regiment, your battalion, your com¬
pany, and your rank. (When you saw a person, you knew what rank he was.
You didn’t want to call him a son-of-a-bitch if he was the colonel.) Our number
was 433 — “4” meant the 24th Marine Regiment; “3” was the 3rd Battalion;
and the other “3” was for the third company, which was “K” company: thus, K
Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines. The replacements had stenciled on
their backs all except the last number, so you could pinpoint them right down
to the battalion that they were going to, but not what company.
Somebody would always know someone over in division headquarters, graves
registration, and before an operation, you’d find out how many grave markers
they were making. You’d find out that they had ten thousand plaques made,
and say, “Oh, boy, this is going to be some kind of an operation!” [laughter]
When we landed on Iwo Jima, they were ready to replace us right away ... just
had to stick another number on their backs. We ran up a 150 percent casualty
rate in the first fifteen, twenty days. I got hit on the seventh day. I was a corpo¬
ral then, and I was a fire-team leader, responsible for three other guys. I’m
“The Surf Turned Red”
The landing wasn’t much fun. That was a nasty looking island right from the
beginning. When we first saw it in the morning, it was under a big cloud of
gray dust. Geez, the bombs were dropping on it and naval gunfire was all over.
We really thought we were just going to go in there and mop up. But the naval
guns just weren’t bothering the Japanese, because they were so far underground.
They had everything underground — even an eight-hundred-bed hospital un¬
By the time we got there, which was early in the afternoon, there weren’t
very many places you could still land for the wreckage of the boats, the tractors,
the tanks, the trucks — equipment all over. The first couple of waves got in,
but they didn’t go very far, maybe a hundred or two hundred yards max. And
then wham\ Stopped. Every place you could see there were bodies. That’s as far
as we could go. The beach was just being shelled with small arms fire, mortars,
rockets; and we were hit with anti-aircraft guns set up so that they could shoot
down across the beach. That was also the first time we got hit with phosphorous
shells. The airbursts of white phosphorous were a little scary, because your
foxhole didn’t protect you that well and that stuff hurts; it burns right through
It was getting dark, and we were still in reserve, not on the front lines, but it
didn’t make any difference where you were on that beach — if you wanted to
get wounded, all you had to do was stand up. No place was any more dangerous
than another place.
We tried to dig in, but the sand kept caving in. So you found a shell hole and
improved on it. However, one side of our foxhole was solid. It wasn’t until the
next morning, when it got light enough, that we discovered it was a five-hun¬
dred pound bomb with a land mine strapped to it. (The Japanese also had what
we called a “yardstick mine.” It was an anti-personnel mine about a meter long,
and a human footstep could set it off. The beach was littered with these.) The
sun came up, and we were immediately looking for a new place to hang out.
There was a big cliff which looked down on the beach one way, and Mount
Suribachi looked down the beach the other way. The Japanese could see every¬
thing that every human being on that beach was doing. You couldn’t hide from
them. It was just unreal. About 70,000 of us had landed all together, and it was
just a mass of humanity down there — dead and alive and wounded. Hell, the
first five, six days, we were lucky to be five, six hundred yards inland.
The night I got hit, we were on the right flank of the beach. We had gotten
up on top of a cliff that afternoon, and that was as far as we could make it.
Fortunately, we had some concertina wire (barbed wire) — it’s in a big loop,
and it just expands like a concertina. We stretched that out in front of our
holes, but we ran out of it just where my squad ended. I was in a hole with two
other guys, and one of them had a BAR. I was on watch; the other guys are
trying to sleep. All of a sudden, I heard a pop. I knew it was a Japanese grenade,
because after they pull their pin they have to bang the grenade on something to
actuate it. Lots of times they bang it on their helmets, so youd hear that pop. It
was pitch black, and here comes the grenade. It landed behind us, and when it
went off, I got a piece of shrapnel in my rear. We had the BAR set up on its
bipod, but it’s a pretty heavy weapon and clumsy. I mean, you don’t just whip it
around. Meantime, I hear this hollering, and here comes a Japanese officer
around the edge of the wire. He’s got that damn sword out, and boy, that’s the
biggest knife I ever saw. I’m still trying to get the BAR around, and it’s not
coming around fast enough. He gets into the hole with us, but one of the other
kids popped him before he did any damage with his sword. There were some
others behind him, but by that time the BAR was functioning, and the rest of
the night we were in pretty good shape.
The next morning, I was evacuated down to the beach. Fortunately, the
situation was such that they couldn’t keep us there. When the first boat came
along I was ambulatory, so I could get on. As a matter of fact, I helped a couple
of other people. Aboard ship they had the operating room set up, and I got
sewn up. I was in great shape in two days, ready to come back, but that night
the ship pulled out and went to Guam and unloaded us at the hospital. From
there we went back to Pearl Harbor, then back to Maui and started training
again. From our platoon, there were probably only fifteen or twenty who came
back from Iwo Jima.
We knew the next shot would be the mainland of Japan. We were down on
the dock loading ammunition, rations, and water, when the word came out that
they had dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the war was
over. That was a good day. Yeah, wow! We had a party. It was like the Fourth of
July that night — everybody’s out firing, and the ships in the harbor were
shooting. It was just as dangerous there as it was on Iwo, for Christ’s sake!
All of us that were in the original 4th Division came home together to
Camp Pendleton. After a few days we turned in our gear. We threw our rifles in
a pile, our canteen cups in this one, our canteens in that one, our cartridge belts
in that one — just threw the stuff in big piles. And then from there everybody
The Surf Turned Red’
went to separation centers to get discharged. Shortly after that, they retired the
colors for the 4th Division, and it went out of existence.
Following the war Charles Harton briefly attended the University of California at
Davis on the GI Bill. He re-enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1946, fought in Korea,
and retired in 1966as a First Sergeant. During his career Harton was awarded the
Purple Heart and the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” for Iwo Jima
and gold star for Korea. He is a national director of the Navy League of the United
States, and active in its Reno chapter.
“You Just Met One Who Does Not Know
How to Cook”
Zelda Webb Anderson was a New Year’s baby,
born January 1, 1921 in Baltimore. She was
the first of eleven children, graduated from
high school at the age of fourteen, and was
one of thefirst black women to enter military
service in the Womens Army Auxiliary Corps,
which was renamed the Women’s Army Corps
in the fall of1942:
I REPORTED FOR DUTY in January 1942.
Until then everything had been
done over the phone and in writing, and it
was only when I reported at the recruiting
office in Baltimore that they saw that I was black. Because we had a segregated
Army back then they sent me home until March, when they had enough black
recruits to make up an all-black unit.
They put me in charge of fifteen black WAACs from Baltimore, and sent us
to Fort Des Moines, Iowa. This was so exciting to me. We had black officers,
and our basic training was the same as for men. They would simply tell us, “You
wanted to be in a man’s army, so now you got to do what the men do.” We
learned military courtesy, history, how to shoot an M-l, go on bivouac, bathe
in a teacup of water, eat hardtack rations ....
Every evening troops of male soldiers would march by our barracks enroute
to the mess hall. I told the commanding officer that we would like to have some
shades at the windows, “Oh, no. You wanted to be in the man’s army. Fine —
you have to do what the men do.” I told all the girls, “Listen, they won’t give us
any shades. So I want you to get right in front of the windows buck naked.”
The next day we had shades at all the windows, [laughter]
They pulled me out of basic training the third week and sent me to officer
training in Des Moines. All of the instructors were white, but white and black
officers were being trained in the same facility, in the same classes, and we slept
in the same barracks. After OCS I was assigned to a laundry unit.
A black enlisted WAAC could either be in the laundry unit or she could be in
the hospital unit. In the laundry unit, if she had a college degree she could work
at the front counter, giving the laundry out and taking the laundry in. If she
had less than that, then she did the laundry — very demeaning. And in the
hospital unit they let her wash walls, empty basins, wash windows — all that
In the laundry unit we were constantly asking for promotions for our girls.
The white troops were steadily being promoted, but they would tell us that all
of the promotions were frozen. We learned that you can skip all that chain of
command and go to the inspector general and action will be taken. Three of us
officers asked the girls to cooperate with us. We took off our officer uniforms
and went to work right beside them for two weeks. We told the girls, “If you
have a backache, if you have a headache, if you have any kind of ache, go on
sick call, because we want this to be part of our report.” We had so many girls
going on sick call!
We sent our report to the inspector general, and, as a result, they rewrote the
rules about what women could do in the service: They could no longer lift over
a certain number of pounds; they could no longer wash the windows. We couldn’t
do it by the book, because they weren’t going to listen to us. We had to find
another route, but we got it done.
I started applying for every opportunity to take additional training adver¬
tised on the bulletin board. Everywhere I went, a president quit. At Purdue
University I took a course in personnel administration, and the president quit.
At William and Mary College in Virginia the president quit. I was sent to
Washington and Lee University, to become a special service officer — the presi¬
dent quit. Schools had to agree that all trainees would stay in the same facilities,
and I was the only black each time. It was unthinkable for a black person to
walk up and down those “halls of ivy” without a broom in his hand. “Sleep in
our beds? Oh, no!”
I was assigned to duty at Fort Breckenridge, Kentucky. The post commander’s
name was Colonel Throckmorton. In a pronounced southern accent he told
me, “You’re going over to that colored WAC company, and you’re going to be
the mess officer.”
I said, “Sir, I have not had any mess training.”
“All you nigras know how to cook.”
“You Just Met One Who Does Not Know How to Cook”
I said, “You just met one who does not know how to cook; but if you send me
to Fort Eustis, Virginia, for training I will come back and be the best mess
officer you have on this post.”
“I ain’t sending you to no school, and you’re going over there to be a mess
officer.” When I about-faced, I kept on going. I didn’t even salute him.
In the days of slavery there was always a black slave who would shuffle up to
the master and tell him anything that was going on among the blacks, an infor¬
mant. Usually they had a handkerchief tied around their head for perspiration,
so that’s where the slang expression “handkerchief head” came from. This woman
in our barracks was a handkerchief head. She told Colonel Throckmorton things
about me . . . that I went out without my hat on — trivial things.
He said, “Now, I sent you over to that colored WAC company to be the mess
officer, and I understand you don’t even eat in there.”
I said, “Well sir, if I didn’t eat in there, where iuould\ eat? I can’t eat in Mess
Number One because that’s for white officers.”
He pointed at me, and when he did that I grabbed his finger and said, “As
long as you live, don’t you ever point your finger in my face. I am an officer and
a gentleman by the same act of Congress that commissioned you.”
They finally decided to send some black WACs to Europe, and everybody
was calling me from all over the country: “I see your name is on the list to go to
Europe. I’ll see you at Ft. McClellan.” But I never got any orders. Finally I went
to Colonel Throckmorton. I said, “All of these people are calling me saying my
name is on a list to go overseas, but I have not received any orders.”
Now he tells me the real truth: “We had your name taken off of the list to go
overseas, because you wanted to show me that you can be the best mess officer
on this post.”
“I told you I would be the best mess officer you have on this post if you sent
me to Ft. Eustis, and I’ve been waiting on my orders,” I said.
Instead, he made me the assistant to the post publications officer. But there
was no post publication officer! I was the assistant to a nonexistent position to
organize books of Army regulations. When the books come out, a train delivers
them to a warehouse on the post; they simply dump them in the building. I had
twelve WACs, two German prisoners of war (to kill the rats), and a white civil¬
ian fellow who the colonel had planted there to really be in charge. The first
order I gave this young man, he said, “Uh-uh. Negroes don’t talk like that to
white folks.” So I said, “Well, darling, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the
kitchen,” and he left.
Our job was to make some order out of all of that chaos. I have a whole
scrapbook of letters of commendation on the good job that I did there. We not
only made order of the chaos, but I got every one of those girls a promotion to
PFC or corporal. Meanwhile, I’m still a second lieutenant. Oh, it took a new
act of Congress to get a promotion for me! [laughter]
Not too long after that, as the war was de-escalating, they closed Camp
Breckenridge, and they sent me to Ft. Knox. Lo and behold, that’s where they
had sent Colonel Throckmorton as post commander! When I went up to greet
him, he said, “Now, Lieutenant, I think we understand each other, and so that
there won’t be any friction, I will make you the post special service officer. Your
office will be right here in headquarters.”
I groaned, “Oh, no!”
“This will be your secretary and your driver, and you will be assigned a
My job was to act as a liaison between the big entertainers in the civilian
world and the military, to bring them to the post to entertain the troops. Duke
Ellington, Stan Kenton, Lena Horne, Earl Hines, Jimmy Lunsford, Cab
Calloway, Count Basie — the legends. They put on good shows, and they were
good for morale, because it was a release from this day-to-day, humdrum life of
the military. I met their planes and found rooms for them, because they couldn’t
stay on the post or in the white hotels. They would stay at colored hotels or
rooming houses or in the homes of private citizens. One of the places was a
doctor’s wife’s home — the doctor had died, and she was living by herself in this
As a result of our relationship, the colonel would come to me for advice. One
of the things that he wanted advice on was whether all officers, black and white,
should use the same mess hall and theater. I told him that segregation has not
allowed white people to know black people: “We know you very intimately, but
you don’t know how we think, how we react, and so you just try to push your
stuff on us, not giving a damn about how zz^feel about this. And then when we
rebel, or you meet somebody like me, who decides that you can’t do this to me,
then you think I’m cantankerous; you think I’m an agitator. I’m just trying to
give you an education. All we want to know is that we can use these facilities.”
I said, “It’s degrading to us to have gone through officer training school, and
then we have to go to the enlisted men’s club or the noncoms’ club if we want to
have a drink with our friends.”
I lived out the rest of my days very happy in the Army. If I had succumbed to
the treatment that they had given other blacks before, and not spoken up for
You Just Met One Who Does Not Know How to Cook”
myself, my morale would have been down, and I would have been doing work
that I did not like. In this life, you’ve got to speak up for yourself. You can’t go
around shuffling your feet with your head hung down acting apologetic. If you
see something you want, you must go after it. One day somebody will recog¬
nize it, and it’s a victory for you, especially when it’s somebody who has deni¬
grated you because of your race.
I did a lot of growing up in those days. Before the service, I didn’t know that
my parents had protected me and my siblings from all kinds of things that go
on in the world. I met so many people who came into the service with different
purposes, and they weren’t always honorable purposes. Some came because they
didn’t know what to do with their lives. Some came because they wanted to get
away from whatever kind of life they were leading. As a WAC officer, I was in
a position to help, to talk to people who did not have a direction. Who knows,
maybe they would be something less honorable if nobody had said what I was
able to say to them.
If things had been different, I believe my contribution would have been
greater, but I did what I could under the circumstances. Through the Veteran’s
Hospital, I’ve met women who were pilots ... I would love to have to been
exposed to that. I resent the fact that my country, that I loved, would not let me
have the same opportunities that some other people had just because of an
accidental condition of birth over which I had no control. Besides being black,
I’m a woman, and so I had every possible discrimination that they could offer
during the Second World War. And then the reverse took place when Affirma¬
tive Action came, because it was profitable for somebody to hire one person and
actually get two. “I’ve got a female, and I’ve got a minority, all in one paycheck!”
Our country has not solved all of its problems. You have to live democracy
before you can preach democracy. I’ve got four granddaughters, and I don’t
want them put in a position where they don’t have equal opportunities, equal
chances, and then they have to fight the same old battles that I fought again.
After the war Zelda Anderson earned a master’s degree in education at New York
University and an Ed.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. She devoted
forty-two years to working in education, including a stint teaching at the University
of East Africa in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Mrs. Anderson is now retired and lives
Link Piazzo is a native Nevadan, bom in Reno
on December 11, 1918 to Italian immigrant
parents Santino and Emma Piazzo. Link at¬
tended Mary S. Doten Elementary, Northside
High School and Reno High School. One of
five children, he planned to become a carpen¬
ter. Instead, he and his brother Chet pooled
their $800 and opened the Sportsman sport-
ing goods store on Virginia Street in 1938.
When World War II began, Piazzo went to
great lengths to join the Army Air Corps and
become a pilot:
I WAS A CARPENTER with a high school
education, and the Air Corps required
a college education. You could get in by pass¬
ing a refresher course with a score of seventy-five. I barely passed with a sev¬
enty-six! Next came the physical. I knew my right eye was 20/20, but my left
eye was 20/30. My friend Vic Hall copied the charts for me, and I asked the
sergeant if I could take my exam the next day. I stayed up all night memorizing
the 20/20 line — forwards and backwards, four different sequences — and I
passed it. Once I got to ground school, I began having a hell of a time, and I was
falling behind. I didn’t want to get washed out; I wanted to get washed back. I
had a little athletes foot from wearing a pair previously-worn GI shoes that had
been issued to me, so I stood on that one foot all night long trying to aggravate
the infection. They put me in the hospital, and that’s just exactly what I wanted.
When my class moved out, I joined the next class and was ahead instead of
At the conclusion of Pre-Flight, I was assigned to bombardier training, but I
wanted to be a pilot. We had been warned not to ask the major for any changes
in assignment, or we’d risk being washed out, but I said, “I’m going to see the
One of the major’s office girls gave me a tip — didn’t know me from a sack of
peanuts — “When you talk to the major, tell him that you make model air¬
planes, because he’s a model airplane nut.”
Well, I had a nephew who made models out of balsa wood, and I knew
airplanes, all the models. When I saw the major, I said, “I hate to tell you this,
Major, but I think you might have made a mistake in my classification.”
“What did you say?”
I said, “I have over a thousand hours of stick time,” which wasn’t true — I’d
only been up in the air once. “I’d like to be a pilot. I’ve made model airplanes all
my life. I have them hanging all over my bedroom at home.” And I start men¬
tioning the models. I even had the scales, you know, twenty-to-one, thirty-to-
one. He became engrossed, and he grabbed my folder, crossed out “bombar¬
dier” and stamped “pilot” on it. He said, “And don’t you let me down!” What
the hell — you’ve got to be a con artist sometimes if you’re going to get ahead.
Right? I conned myself right into helping win World War II.
Now we hit primary training. They had a curfew, but I studied under a
blanket with a flashlight while the other guys were sleeping, every night. These
other guys could already fly — before the war started they had been enrolled in
the Civilian Pilot Training program, and now they were all soloing in two or
three hours. (If you didn’t solo in ten hours, you were washed out.) I was the
only guy who hadn’t flown an airplane. I was assigned to a civilian instructor
pilot by the name of Layman, who was a tough instructor. We’re flying Steerman
biplanes with two cockpits; he’s in the front. We wore World War I helmets
where they talk to you through a tube; but if you made a mistake, he didn’t
speak through the tube — he’d reach over from the front cockpit, pull your
helmet off your ears and yell, “God damn you! I said five hundred feet, not five
hundred and twenty!” Or he’d just bang the stick between your knees.
One day Layman said, “I don’t know what keeps you going, but you seem to
be improving.” I didn’t know I was improving until then. When anybody else
soloed, he’d go in the ready room, have a cup of coffee. When I soloed, he’s
sitting on a parachute next to the airstrip, wondering if I’m going to make it.
[laughter] Afterwards he said, “When you get to basic training, a lot of these
guys will wash out. You’re going to be a better pilot, because you worked harder.”
I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right. About a third of them washed out at basic.
Advanced training was in Stockton, California, where we received our wings
and were commissioned as second lieutenants. From there, I was stationed at
Mather Field in Sacramento, and I came home quite often. Now we were studying
B-25s. The training got easier. There was less pressure to hide in the middle of
the night studying, and more flying time. We were studying the hydraulic sys¬
tems, electrical systems, fuel systems, and so forth, and I knew I was equal with
these guys. I trained on A-20s in Oklahoma City, and then they sent me back to
Greenville, South Carolina, to fly B-25s. From there we flew in a C-47 all the
way to New Guinea. The training was over, and we knew we were headed for
In New Guinea we were in Nadzab, which was thirty miles inland from Lae.
We had no fresh food; we had only canned food, biscuits, and coffee. A major
explained, “There’s an Australian down at Lae who unloads our Liberty ships,
but he steals all the good stuff. Nothing we can do about it.”
I told my navigator. “Let’s go down and meet the guy.” His name was Mitchell.
Instead of fighting the guy, I joined him by saying, “Anything we can do for
“Can you get me some trench knives?” he asked. We were issued trench
knives, but everybody threw them away. They weren’t even sharp. He invited
us in, and we had lunch — our beer, our food, our cheese! He lived like a king
in this compound with all our food, but I never said a word. After lunch he
said, “I can get a barge load of fruit from Salamaua for one panel of parachute
When we got back, I said to the quartermaster, “I’ve got a quart of Australian
beer if you have any parachute silk.”
“How good does it have to be?” he asked. “We just surveyed two tons of
parachutes.” (Surveying means get rid of it.) Well, he had enough parachute
silk there to buy out all of New Guinea!
We only gave Mitchell two panels of silk and some trench knives, and he said
in return, “What can I do for you?” I wanted one of those little 9mm Australian
Stanley Owens submachine guns, because they had issued us .45 automatics
that we couldn’t hit a barn with. He said, “You got it.” (At Nadzab we made
wooden boxes in which we shipped home restricted items such as this.)
One day a bunch of us went down to Australia to ferry back B-25s. There
were none available, but they did have an A-20, which I took. My engineer
said, “Let’s try to fly this thing four hundred miles an hour.” It had never been
done before. You’re supposed to have oxygen from ten thousand feet, but I
went up to ceiling, 16,500 feet, and I ducked the nose, and we’re heading for
the ocean. He’s reading the airspeed, “Three hundred. It’s 325. That’s the ocean
coming up — 390, 393.” Talk about should have been killed! “Four hundred!”
he yelled. I just put my feet on the rudder pedals and pulled as hard as I could
on the wheel and just barely missed the ocean. But when I did that, I ruptured
the hydraulic system, and the bomb bay came open.
We arrive over headquarters at Nadzab, and I’m the big shot, because the
other B-25 pilots had had to return from Australia in a cargo plane. So I buzz
my outfit three or four times, twenty feet off the ground. I look down and see
my buddies all jumping for slit trenches. “What in the hell’s the matter with
those guys?” I forgot all about the bomb bay doors being open.
When I landed the airplane, here’s a MP with a striped jeep waiting. I said,
“Get your fanny off this taxi strip so I can check this airplane in; then you can
take me anywhere you want.” Which he did. The day before the Japs had strafed
and bombed our outfit with a captured A-20 like the one I was flying.
The colonel was too busy to give me hell, so the major chewed me out:
“You’re grounded for two weeks, and we’re taking your flying pay away.” Two
days later everybody gets assigned to the fat-cat, medium altitude outfit, and
I’m grounded. When the two weeks were up, he assigned me to the 17th Squad¬
ron. No one wanted to be assigned to the 17th. They called it the “suicide
squadron,” because they were strafing and bombing at low altitude. But after
this incident that’s where I ended up, and the rest of my crew were pissed off at
me, the copilot especially, because he hadn’t been on the Australian A-20 ad¬
venture. Well, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened, because
most of the other guys in the medium altitude outfits later got shot down.
So we headed out for the 17th Squadron, 71st Group, in a brand new B-25,
D-model. That’s when we started flying combat missions. Sixty-seven of them.
In addition to Mindoro, I flew over Luzon and Formosa and many other places.
The primary targets were alcohol plants, munitions plants, and air fields. A
mission was supposed to be nine airplanes — three flights of three. But most
times we were more dispersed, because the fewer you have, the better off you
are, especially if you fly wing-tip to wing-tip at low altitude, as close to the
target as possible. We were supposed to have fighters for cover; but when we
would get a good, hot mission, and the fighter pilots knew they were going to
be attacked, and we were to meet them in a certain place over the ocean, half
the time they didn’t find us.
“Direct theater orders” meant directly from MacArthur to the 17th Squad¬
ron. Normally they go through command, which is wing to group to squadron.
One day a direct theater order came, which meant get in the airplane in five
minutes, then it’s loaded and we take off. They gave us a grid map. We were on
Mindoro, and the Japanese were moving from Clark Field north on Luzon.
They wanted us to wipe out all rolling stock, which meant trains, trucks, wag¬
ons, cars — everything in a grid; targets of opportunity. On the bottom of the
order it said, “DO NOT STRAFE THE VILLAGES, (signed) General Dou¬
glas A. MacArthur.”
We formed up over Bataan with four airplanes, and we were to rendezvous
there at a designated time after we were through. When the attack starts I’m
going pretty good. This mission was one of two which, combined, earned me
the Distinguished Flying Cross. I knocked out a lot of trains and trucks, and in
my last run I cleaned out the area and all the roads and highways. But the
Japanese are not stupid; they’re not moving too much in the daytime. They
would camouflage and sit there in the villages with guns, and when I fly over
this one village, I get the hell shot out of my plane. I lost the right engine and
the plexiglas canopy was shot out.
My radio gunner, Harry Hall, called up, “Gas all over the place!”
I said, “Harry, you’re not smoking* are you?” [laughter]
He said, “I was.”
Gunfire had ripped off the end of the bomb bay tank, and fuel spurted out
on him and put his cigarette out. (If the gasoline had gushed out a few feet from
him, not extinguishing his cigarette, the fumes would have ignited and blown
us up.) Harry was knocked him off his stool, but nobody in the plane was hit.
We headed for Bataan, didn’t see anybody there to rendezvous with, and turned
They called them bullet-proof tanks. Bullet proof, my foot! They were all
leaking, and I was running out of gas. After we landed, I had the crew chief
drain the tanks to find out how much gas was left. We had six gallons, enough
to taxi from here to the parking lot. Talk about luck, and thank the good Lord!
The three planes that hadn’t shown up at the rendezvous point had been shot
down. You don’t pay any attention to that, because the next time you’re going to
get shot down. So what the hell — it’s just something I can’t explain unless
you’ve been in combat. You don’t sit there and say, “Oh God, Ken was a hell of
a guy. We’re going to miss old Ken.” Well, so, he got shot down ....
When I got back to my tent after de-briefing my copilot grabbed me by the
shirt and his eyes were bugging out. “God damn you,” he said. “You keep
bringing us back! When are we going to get shot down?”
I said, “Get your hands off of me. Christ, I might accommodate you next
time we fly.” We were supposed to report people like him to the flight surgeon,
but I didn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t. My copilot was very capable, but he brooded
a lot. He’d sit on a cot in his tent after a mission, thinking. That’s the worst
thing you can do.
After we got shot up, my crew chief came and said, “Why don’t you come
back to the flight line and look at that airplane?”
I said, “I had enough of that airplane. Junk it.”
But he insisted I go back and sit in the cockpit. We had picked up maybe a
hundred-and-some-odd holes. We took out the parachute that the pilot sits on,
and discovered that the one-and-a-half inch armor plate under it had been bent
like a horseshoe by a 20mm round that had hit right under my butt. My crew
chief also found a spent .25 caliber, metal-piercing bullet in the aluminum
frame, right above my head where the plexiglas was shot out. If it hadn’t been a
spent bullet, it would have knocked my head off. My crew chief dug it out and
put it on a chain, and I’ve worn it around my neck ever since. Once in a while
I won’t wear it for a few weeks, but when things are tough, I take a look at it and
think, “Things aren’t too tough.”
After that mission I told my group commander, “You tell MacArthur that
I’m not sending any more airplanes on these missions unless we can drop leaf¬
lets and then strafe the villages, because it’s absolute suicide. And if he insists,
you can tell MacArthur to go to hell.”
“Captain, would you like to tell him to go to hell?” [laughter] Two days later
General MacArthur ordered us to drop the leaflets, which warned the Filipinos
to evacuate their villages because we were going to strafe them.
On Mindoro, a brand new crew came. I had never met any of them, and
we’re supposed to go on a long sea-sweep mission. We have nine airplanes. I’m
leading a flight, not the squadron, and I call the navigator over. “I want you to
do your own navigating,” I say, “because if we get separated, I want you to
know where in the hell we are, right?” (Navigators had the habit of letting the
lead ship navigator do all the navigating.) So we make the sea sweep; but the
weather’s kind of lousy and it gets dark and we get socked in, and now we’re all
alone. I turn around and say, “Give me a heading. Where are we going to break
out from the Philippines?”
And without hesitation, he says, “Manila Bay.”
Well, for Christ’s sake! The Japs have Manila Bay. They have Corregidor,
they have Cavite, they have Manila, and that’s suicide! As a pilot, you get this
sixth sense of where you are. I’m on instruments, and I call him over: “Give me
your maps.” When the navigator gets lost, don’t let him wander around; he’ll
get you all screwed up. I gave the controls to the copilot while I looked at the
maps, and when I looked back at the instruments, he’s got us in a spin and
doesn’t even know it. So I take us out of the spin, and now I have to fly the
airplane and £\ind out where we are if I can, at night, on instruments. We had a
radio altimeter that would indicate if you were over land or water, and those
things almost never worked. This one happened to work. Talk about the good
Lord being on your side!
I told my radio man to turn on his liaison set and see if he could get a fix on
us from Mindoro. When I didn’t hear back from him, I turned around and saw
flames. He had turned on the liaison set, and it exploded and burned his hands
when he was trying to put the fire out. That took care of the liaison set. All of
a sudden the altimeter said we were over land. I’m flying above the highest
mountain, and I sense that we’re north of Mindoro. I balance the tanks; they all
show zero, and we won’t be able to make it.
I asked my copilot to call August Crystal, which was a direction-finding
signal, secret code. They asked me to take a certain heading in order to deter¬
mine how far out we were. “One hundred and twenty miles,” they said. I told
them that we would not make it, and that they should alert PT boats to head
toward us. I would ditch the plane in the ocean on a reciprocal course, hoping
that the boats would find us. Then I said, “Will you turn on the field spot¬
“No,” he said, “Bandits visited us this evening.” (Japanese, see.) “Can’t turn
So I said, “Call Colonel Thompson.”
It wasn’t two minutes, we see two big spotlights, and we’re damn near over
them — so close I had to circle the goddamn field, follow me? (They had
completely miscalculated our position.) It was the tightest turn I ever made.
They told me later it looked like I landed on one wing. I took care of the radio
man’s hands, and my copilot came with a bottle of whiskey, and we drank it and
had a hell of a time. They thought I was the greatest pilot that ever lived. The
good Lord had brought us home again.
Colonel C. T. Thompson was our group commander, and he did not have to
fly. I would post the crews the night before, and on a hot mission he’d erase the
copilot’s name in the lead ship and put his own name down. My copilot would
get madder than hell. He’d get up at three o’clock in the morning, shave, shower,
go to breakfast, and go over to the ready room to be briefed. He’d see “C.T.
Thompson” in his place, so he’d have to back to bed.
Thompson wasn’t a guy you conversed with, but he and I were very close. He
would order me to do this and do that, and I would lie to him at times. He
knew I was lying to him, but it was helping end the war. He did me so many
favors. Like the time he told us not to fly to Shanghai, and the very next day I
went to Shanghai, [laughter] I didn’t really intend to land, but I called the
tower, and by golly, I got landing instructions. I said, “Yes, I’m having engine
trouble.” I wasn’t having any engine trouble, but I told my engineer, “When we
cut these engines, get out and take the cowling off, and make believe you’re
working on something.”
We went to the base commander, and he commandeered a couple of limou¬
sines and we went into Shanghai. Things were so cheap ... typewriters for two
dollars and fifty cents, movie cameras for two dollars, and Oriental rugs for
forty dollars that are worth thousands, and kimonos. When I get back a couple
nights later, I’m playing poker with Colonel Thompson and some other offic¬
ers, and he says, “Captain, I hear that one of your airplanes landed in Shang¬
I say, “Colonel, not to my knowledge.” [laughter]
He could have court-martialed me for violating orders, but he knew I was
doing a pretty good job in combat. “I’d love to have one of those kimonos,” he
I put my cards on the table and said, “Colonel, you will have a kimono in
twenty minutes.” I gave him a good one.
After we had knocked out all the tough stuff, the fat-cat B-25 outfit comes
in, and they were flying European style — twenty-five missions and they went
home. Our squadron flew every day, but the crews flew one day on, one day
off. We had to fly three hundred combat hours. I flew sixty-seven missions.
Unrest started among the sergeants because the fat-cat outfit had to fly only
twenty-five missions. They were going to go on strike. Can you imagine that, in
the middle of the war? Now Colonel Thompson told me to call everyone to¬
gether. He walked out on this platform, and he said, almost verbatim, “I don’t
know if you know this, but we’re at war with Japan. I hear there’s some unrest
about how many missions you’re supposed to fly. You’ve been flying alternate
days, but until you get a little happier, you’re all flying every day. Dismissed!”
And he turned around and walked off the platform. That’s the kind of guy he
was. So they all got together: “Geez, maybe we better get happy and fly three
hundred combat hours!” [laughter]
After so many missions we were supposed to have battle fatigue, so we’d go
down to Manila to a club there, play volleyball, and eat and drink for three or
four days, and come back. On our regular days off we played poker and we
drank, if there was any beer around. I don’t know if I was a good poker player,
but I won more than I lost. We made good friends at the poker table, and we
just kind of traded the money around. We had no use for money, because we
figured we were going to get killed, so why worry about betting five dollars or
We used to owe each other: “OK, I owe you two hundred; I owe you fifty,”
and we kept records. But one night the communications officer won all the
money. Next day we’ll be flying hot missions in Luzon, so he says, “OK, you
guys. I want my money tonight, because I know you’re flying a hot mission
tomorrow, and you may not make it.” The pilots were so mad at him they
wanted to kill him, because he’s a ground officer and he’s pretty safe. I went to
our group commander and told him what had happened and said, “I want him
transferred, because if you don’t transfer him, we’re going to kill him.” They
We devised things to bet on. Like, in Mindoro we camped next to a dump,
and there were these pack rats. Some brilliant officer said, “Well, the best thing
we can do is issue you guys bird shot rounds for your .45 pistols.” That was like
going on the beach and picking up a grain of sand, because there were millions
of pack rats. You had to live with them; they were all over the place. They
operated at night, bringing something and leaving something... mostly shoes.
You would get up in the morning, and you’ve got two shoes, but one’s size ten
and one’s size eight. And they love anything that has salt, like the tongues of
your shoes, so nobody had any tongues in their shoes.
Occasionally a rat would fall down onto your mosquito net when you were
asleep — the procedure was to belt him with the back of your hand and knock
him off immediately. If you were late knocking him off, the rat would urinate
on you and your cot because he was excited and nervous. We were as quick as
possible getting them off the net.
We were issued biscuits, but nobody could eat them, because they were salty
and wrapped in oil paper. We’d put them on top of our makeshift shelf with our
names on them — Piazzo, Jones, Stotters — and we’d bet good money on how
far the rats would eat. You could hear them at night; they sound just like a horse
crunching! Wed get up in the morning all at the same time, and we’d check our
biscuits to see who’d won.
We were also issued boxes of ten-in-one rations, dehydrated food. One night
we discovered that one of the empty boxes was plumb full of rats, eating —
apparently some small amount of food had remained in it. We closed the lid on
the box. We had these trench knives, so I said, “I’ll open up the flap, and you
stab once; and you open the flap, and I’ll stab once.” You know, shack happy for
something better to do. My copilot wakes up, turns on his flashlight and sees
blood all over, and he thinks we’re stabbing each other! [laughter] When he
found out what we were doing he joined us. Those are the things that you do in
Link Piazzo’s B 25], "My Buck. ”
Our B-25-Js had fourteen forward-firing .50-caliber machine guns, and the
pilot controlled all the weaponry. He had one button for the guns; the other
button was for the bombs. The pilot opened the bomb bay doors, did all the
strafing with one button, and dropped the bombs with the other. With all the
training I had received, I had become a good shot; the film proved it. We had
cameras strapped to the bomb bays and to the guns — even though you some-
times didn’t know what you were hitting, when they developed the film it could
shock you. One time all we saw on our attack were coconut trees, yet we killed
The 5th Air Force was known as the Flying Buccaneers. From north Luzon,
we were flying missions to Formosa, and these were the toughest missions we
had, period. We lost airplanes almost daily. Formosa is a very small island. It’s
only two hundred and thirty-five miles long and seventy-five miles wide; and
about thirty-five, forty miles of that is huge hills, extending along the east coast.
The Japs had sixteen hundred gun emplacements in that small area, so we got
shot at pretty good. We would go in at low altitude because their anti-aircraft
guns were set up to fire at higher-flying aircraft, and the lower you got, the safer
you were — rifle bullets wouldn’t hurt you. But by the tail end of the war we
were flying a mission over Formosa when here came flak, twenty feet off the
ground! It was so close I could smell it. They had finally learned how to do that.
Photographed from another plane in his squadron, Piazzo bombs and strafes a target on
One particular mission flying to Formosa, I was leading the second Flight
(we were in three flights of three). As he was approaching the target, the lead
pilot opened his bomb bay doors, indicating to all of us to open ours. But I
knew Formosa like the back of my hand, and I knew he was going to bomb the
wrong target. I could see the true target approximately three miles to the South¬
east, so I made a very sharp left turn toward it. As a result, I lost my two wing
men. The target was an alcohol plant and adjacent airfield, which I strafed and
bombed with all my bombs. I did not see the alcohol tank, which they generally
concealed, but I did knock out several airplanes and buildings.
As I passed the target I found myself immediately in cloud cover over a huge
mountain range, thinking for sure that we would crash. I pulled the nose up
sharply and made a 180 degree turn on instruments. When I broke out of the
clouds, which I certainly did not want to do, I was over the same target. This
time I saw the alcohol tank. My bombs had all been dropped on the first run,
but I had a lot of .50 caliber ammo left, so I made another strafing pass. When
I was finished I had blown up the alcohol plant and completely demolished the
target with my one airplane.
When we returned to Luzon the lead ship pilot came to me and said, “You’re
not going to believe this — we hit the wrong target.”
I said, “Maybe you did, but I didn’t.” (He didn’t realize that I had broken off
from his formation.) Intelligence immediately developed the 16mm film from
my gun camera. Even I could not believe the complete destruction of this target
by one airplane! This was second of two missions for which I was eventually
awarded the D.EC.
When they dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we did not
know they were atom bombs, because it was a very secretive thing; but practi¬
cally as the bombs hit the ground, we knew from what we called ground trans¬
mission or latrine transmission, [laughter] (That’s the way war is.) After they
dropped the bombs Colonel Thompson said, “I don’t want any of your air¬
planes to fly over the ‘big bomb towns.’ It’s against all regulations.” We didn’t
know anything about radioactivity — all we knew was that we had hit Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, and I told our photo lab technician to get all our best cameras
together: “We’re going on a secret mission tomorrow.”
The next day I took two extra photographers, and we flew over Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, as close to the ground as possible, average about forty feet. We
took thirty-six photos, and it turned out that they were the only low-altitude
pictures taken of Hiroshima and Nagasaki right after the bombs were dropped.
We developed the film at three o’clock in the morning, and I made a set for
everybody in the crew, plus two or three sets for my close friends.
The brass heard that one of our airplanes had flown over the big bomb towns
and announced, “Report to headquarters immediately. Very serious matter. If
you don’t report, you’ll be court-martialed.” Nobody reported. Most got scared
and burned the pictures. I smuggled mine home under my shirt, and my radio
gunner, Harry Hall, burned all but six. He cut those in half, and he
“We flew over Nagasaki as close to the ground as possible. ”
smuggled them home in his stationery. Forty-five years later he wrote an article
about our flight for Soldier of Fortune magazine, called “Forbidden Flight.” He
was ordered to send messages back to headquarters saying we were someplace
else. Today four of my photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are hanging in the
General George S. Patton Museum in southern California.
Combat missions were just accepted. You either got shot down, or you shot
the enemy down; you destroyed your target, or you didn’t. It was routine. But
when you did things like fly over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in violation of or¬
ders, that was a little above and beyond. We lived with so much routine danger
all the time that we would do anything extreme for fun and excitement, and
there were a lot of things they could have court-martialed me for. But it’s better
than just sitting in the tent waiting to fly tomorrow.
When I came back to Reno from the war, I had been living on the edge for
some time; so I didn’t worry about anything, because I should have been killed
many times. Some guys that came back from war had psychiatric problems. I
came back to the store, and I would get mad and very impatient for a while.
Then I said to myself, “Now wait a minute here. You’re not in combat now.
Maybe you better settle down,” and I guess I did.
There were two sayings overseas. One was, “Golden Gate in ’48" and the
other one was “Home alive in ’45.” I didn’t miss the excitement at all. I was
damn glad to be back.
In 1988 Link Piazzo was retroactively awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for
two extraordinary missions as a member of the 17th Squadron. His other decora¬
tions and citations include the American Theater Service Medal, World War II
Victory Medal, Philippines Liberation Ribbon, Air Medal with two oak leaf clus¬
ters, and the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal. He still owns the Sportsman, and was on
television for twenty-eight years on “The Sportsmans Corner. ’’Piazzo, who belongs
to a number of service and fraternal organizations, has an impressive record of
“When Patton Showed Up
Earl W. Ralf
Earl W. Ralf was bom in Galesburg, Illinois
to Swedish immigrant parents. He was a
member of the National Honor Society in his
junior and senior years and graduated from
Galesburg High School in 1932. Ralf gradu¬
ated from Knox College as a chemical engi¬
neer in 1936, later returned to join the
ROTC, and was commissioned in the U.S.
Army in 1942:
W E LEFT from Camp Kilmer, New
Jersey in September 1942 for En¬
gland, Ireland and Scotland on the Queen Elizabeth. We’d been out about two
days, traveling alone without an escort and going twenty-five knots, when a U-
boat took after us. Old Queen Elizabeth went up to thirty-five knots, zig-zag¬
ging. It was just like shifting your car into high gear — everybody was pushed
back by the acceleration. The ship was overloaded with sixteen thousand troops
from the 29th Division, and we still made it to Glasgow in four days.
We arrived just before dark; everything was blacked out. They put us straight
on to a troop train with all its windows covered, and we headed south. When
we woke up the next morning we were at a big barracks at Litchfield outside of
Birmingham, and the situation we found ourselves in did not inspire confi¬
dence. Most of us officers were second lieutenants with only about a week’s
worth of rank, which is about as low as you can get in the infantry, [laughter]
Our lieutenant colonels and majors were paunchy retreads from World War I.
We were still wearing our Class-A dress uniforms, because we didn’t have
any fatigues, so they’d drill us in our As, oxford shoes and neckties. We had
been issued helmets at Fort Benning, but they were World War I stuff which we
replaced later on. Since we didn’t have any weapons to train with, we went on
road marches just to keep busy.
Earl W. Ralf
From Litchfield I was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regi¬
ment, which was on the border of Northern Ireland. I was the leader of the first
platoon of I Company, which had quite a mix of men in it. Many were Dutch¬
men from Sheldon, Iowa — clean-cut, athletic farm boys who had all been in
the National Guard and were top-notch guys. I also had several New Yorkers,
and they were in a different category, [laughter] Others were out of the West
Virginia mountains. One of the West Virginians had never been to school.
When I found out he couldn’t read or write, I told an ex-high school teacher
from Iowa, “You’ve got one month to teach this guy to read and write.” He did.
I censored my platoon’s mail, and one of the proudest guys I ever saw in my life
was this fellow when he wrote his first letter home to his girlfriend. Then he got
a reply, and he could read it himself.
The day before Christmas Eve we were transported to Liverpool on double-
decker street cars, just like a truck convoy — they were all run by women,
because there were no men anywhere. From Liverpool we embarked on a Brit¬
ish ship called the Empress of Australia, which had been a real luxury liner, and
went through the North Sea, around off the coast of France and were escorted
down to North Africa.
We got rammed going through the Straits of Gibraltar on New Year’s Eve.
Nobody was sure what hit us — some said it was one of our own ships in the
convoy. Whatever it was, it put a hole in the side of the hull about the size of
somebody’s living room. My platoon was right there, playing cards; the impact
knocked us all the way across the cabin, [laughter] The bottom of the ship
quickly filled with water, and all the baggage was soaked. The hole was so big
that everybody had to get over on one side of the ship to make it list and to raise
the hole above the water line.
Nobody was hurt, but our ship had to leave the convoy and limp into Oran
to make repairs. They put us out on a rocky hill to get dried out. Although the
real fighting was somewhere about a thousand miles to the east, we were still
considered to be in a combat zone there. Several million people were in Oran,
and just before the seven o’clock curfew rang each night, everybody came out
of the theaters and restaurants and bars and headed for home. Well, the Ger¬
mans found out, and they would send a bomber over at just about dusk. Mass
hysteria would ensue with traffic jams and everything.
In February we moved out of Oran, riding in two-and-a-half ton trucks
headed for Tunisia, a thousand miles away. We were in combat almost immedi-
“When Patton Showed Up ... .
ately. As we were moving down a road fifty or sixty miles from the Mediterra¬
nean, we came upon all these wrecked American tanks lined up. Messerschmitts
had come roaring in from the east at low altitude, and just ran right down the
line and destroyed everything with their guns and bombs. I counted twelve
tanks knocked out right in a row like that. . . they were all dead.
None of our jeeps had machine guns mounted on them, so we couldn’t fire
back at aircraft. Some way or other, we got through there without any casual¬
ties. It was strictly luck. Soon after, our air force began to take over, and they
had these dog fights with the Messerschmitts. They looked like flies up there.
Otherwise, the only American plane that we saw and recognized until April was
a P-40 that got shot down right over us and landed in a cactus patch.
We were very ill-equipped: We didn’t have extra barrels for our machine
guns; we had only one pair of shoes, and if you wore a hole in your shoe, you’d
put a piece of cardboard or something in there. In fact, we didn’t even have M-
1 rifles — we were still carrying Springfield rifles from 1903, and most of our
ammunition was old National Guard ammunition; half of it wouldn’t fire. Even
so, we’d go out at nights on patrol — five or six miles and come back. Fortu¬
nately, there were never any enemies to be found. It was all rumors.
There was no communication to speak of. One night German paratroopers
were reported to have landed within a couple of miles of us, and I was to take
my platoon out and find them. I marched half the night, and I couldn’t find any
German paratroopers, [laughter] But the caution was understandable: there
had been some skirmishes, and one of our regiments got captured before the
Army shipped in Major General George Patton. Our entire attitude changed
when Patton showed up. Here he’d come, riding in a jeep with his pearl-handled
pistols. You knew he was coming; there’d be no question about that. He stood
in the jeep just like George C. Scott, the actor who played him in the movie. I
mean, the guy was perfect! [laughter] I can still see him!
We soon started feeling the effects of Patton: orders came down one day that
all officers were going to wear neckties in combat. We hadn’t seen a necktie for
quite a while, [laughter] We were lucky if we even had shoes or boots, but our
supply sergeant scrambled around and found a bunch of neckties made out of
khaki at the bottom of a barracks bag, wrinkled up . .. so we put on neckties,
and it’s hot in Africa in April. There were fines for not abiding by some of those
rules that Patton had, like always having your rank insignia painted on your
helmet. We had worn nothing on our helmets before, but we started painting
Earl W. Ralf
on the silver bar. It made an awful good target, so it soon became a “subdued”
bar, sort of scratched and dulled and mingled in with the helmet paint. A friend
of mine got shot straight through his insignia — killed him right away ....
We became part of the French expeditionary force, Seventeenth French Corps,
and a few nights later our battalion got orders to move forward into a defensive
position along a small creek. I had a rifle platoon, and we had an anti-tank
platoon, but coming down the road were two German panzer divisions —
basically tanks and personnel carriers, nobody walking — which we didn’t have
much chance against, [laughter] We couldn’t quite figure out what we could do
to these tanks, because the road wound and we couldn’t even see the Germans
coming. I think that was probably an error, but we used what we had, which
were only 37mm anti-tank guns whose projectiles would bounce off the Ger¬
man tanks. A group of those were placed across the creek in defensive positions.
We got a little nervous. The German vehicles weren’t very far away from us,
and all my platoon had were ’03 rifles and some machine guns; but the enemy
kept coming down the road, and they suspected nothing as far as we could tell.
There was plenty of noise from their vehicles before we could see anybody. Our
weapons held fire, and when they were just yards away, our lead anti-tank gun
commander saw them, and faster than you can count, put forty rounds into
them, [laughter] The lead scout car went up just like that! The Germans were
in complete shock. When they pulled back we went out there, and the scout car
was demolished with everybody in it, along with the next vehicle. So this held
It was still morning when we got the order to withdraw the battalion. The
commander called us over and said my platoon had to stay until the Germans
came again, and engage them. There I was, the platoon leader of about thirty-
five guys and a section of machine guns on a hilltop overlooking everything,
with no maps; and we were to stay there until dark or longer, depending on our
I said, “Well, where are the rest of you going?” [laughter]
The commander pointed toward a cone-shaped mountain and said, “Right
behind that mountain. It’s fifteen miles.”
It looked more than fifteen miles to me. We hung around until dark, but
nobody fired anything, because I wasn’t about to take on two panzer divisions,
[laughter] After dark I said, “We better take off toward the mountains. We’re
going to go by the stars. Were headed due west.” We didn’t have a compass or
“When Patton Showed Up
anything, but I had these farm boys looking for the mountain, and we navi¬
gated on instinct and a consensus of opinion. Africa is rolling hills. I mean, you
get to this hill, and you think you’re to the highest hill, but when you get there,
here’s more ridges. They also have ditches they call wadis , and when it rains
they fill up with water just like an arroyo over here.
Well, the first thing we ran across were these wadis, and the banks went
straight down, so we lost our sense of direction. We marched from eleven o’clock
at night till daybreak, and we were going west, so I figured we ought to be close;
but that mountain looked just as far away as it had when we started. I looked
back, and on the next hill behind us were the Germans. Their scouts were on
foot, and behind them came these two panzer divisions. So I thought the best
thing to do is get out of here! This long-legged guy from Minnesota said, “Let’s
go.” He could set a pace; we took giant steps, [laughter]
I had a couple of BAR guys, and I said, “You guys get back there and keep
those Germans off of us.” They took a few shots at the scouts, and maybe held
them up a little bit. We headed across country and marched all day and still
hadn’t reached the mountain. We were pretty disgusted. We had heard the
Foreign Legion was over there somewhere; and if we had found them, we
would’ve joined, because we were very unhappy with the American army at
that moment, [laughter] At a crossroads, we saw an American truck that be¬
longed to the U.S. Air Force, and the driver didn’t have any idea where he was.
The Germans were still just one feature behind us, so I had the guy with the
BAR squeeze a few off, just to make them duck while we climbed in the truck,
and then we made time.
It was dark when we finally got behind the mountain. At the regimental
headquarters tent they said, “Where’s your battalion?” I said, “I don’t know
where the battalion is.” [laughter] They were supposed to be there first, and
they hadn’t shown up. In the morning, here comes the battalion. Nobody knows
yet where they’ve been, but they’ve been lost, there’s no question about that,
[laughter] In the meantime the Germans could have hit us with everything
they had. We were just lucky those two panzer divisions didn’t catch us.
Shortly after daylight, we found out the Germans were in retreat from the
British and going towards Tunis in strength. We started the final campaign that
took us into Tunis, with the Germans going backwards, out to the peninsula.
They were fighting rear guard actions to hold us up, and were all dug in with
their machine guns. We attacked early one morning in strength, had a little fire
fight, and then all of a sudden it was daylight and we had no opposition. The
Earl W. Ralf
Germans were jumping up out of their holes and retreating.
I had an ’03 that had been sawed off like a carbine. Then I had a mechanic
weld a BAR magazine on the bottom of it. It was heavy, but it carried twenty-
two rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. I know this — when the
enemy jumped up and took off, it was just like hunting birds, and I emptied
twenty-three rounds. I emptied the whole thing there. I don’t know what the
At one point, I had charge of an old German ordnance dump, where they
had all these big tanks. You could see where our ammunition had hit those
tanks and bounced off—just couldn’t penetrate anywhere. Our ordnance people
came along and were doing some experimenting. They put land mines under
the treads, and then blew them up. Six or eight of our land mines under the
tread of a tank would only blow off a piece of rubber. In comparison, they set
off one German mine under the tread of a tank, and there were fragments
flying all over the sky. Whether they were the plastic explosives, I don’t know,
but right then we decided we were carrying German mines instead of our own.
[laughter] Every time we captured something, we used it. We also carried the
German machine guns, because our machine guns would go, “ta, ta, ta, ta, ta
.... ” but the German machine guns sounded like “rlllllllllllllll, rllllllllllll,” they
fired so fast. It shows how much more they were developed than we were.
On Easter Sunday there was a lull, and we were going to have eggs. I found
some Arabs and got some eggs, but we ended up eating pancakes because we
didn’t have enough eggs to go around the whole company. We never had any
meat, but we’d negotiate with Arabs for it. Once in a while we’d get a camel,
and they smelled like crazy. One night I sent the squad out. They maneuvered
all night and landed onto this camel — great big thing, and smelled to heaven!
They thought they were stalking a calf, [laughter]
The night that we attacked Tunis, the British artillery and our artillery were
hub to hub. I had gotten some mail from the states that day, and at three o’clock
in the morning I sat down on this hilltop and read those letters from the light of
the artillery fire. It was just like daylight. Boy, we poured that stuff in there!
They pulled back, and the British Eighth Army physically went in and took the
town. That ended the fighting.
“When Patton Showed Up
While all this was going on, my draft notice was forwarded to me from
Illinois. It said, “Reply by so-and-so.” So I wrote that I was busy fighting the
enemy, and if there was some way they could get me out of there, it was all right
with me. [laughter] You don’t exactly get combat happy, but anything else didn’t
When the campaign in North Africa was over, we heard rumors that troops
were going to go into Sicily. Later we learned we were going into Italy, but not
on the initial invasion. We got some replacements, and we picked up M-ls, and
we really trained. General Ryder came up with a motto: “Attack, attack, attack.”
He had been in World War I, and he believed in the old-fashioned tactics,
which we needed, like the infantry following artillery fire. Another lieutenant
and I were in charge of training the whole regiment in following artillery bar¬
rages — close, [laughter] We had casualties every day. This went on for prob¬
ably three or four weeks, and I was getting a little combat happy without being
in combat. This other guy and I had to control the line, and sometimes we were
only ten yards behind the artillery. We found out one thing there — there were
more casualties from shrapnel flying back and hitting guys in the rear than up
close. The desert was hard ground, and when a shell would hit, the guys nearest
were relatively safe; while a couple of hundred yards back, the guy sitting there
waiting would get hit. The closer you are to this stuff, the better off you are.
The invasion of Italy wasn’t going too well, so they decided that we should go
in and reinforce. We moved up to the Mediterranean Coast, right close to
Oran, to train for an amphibious landing, but there weren’t any landing craft
available. So we took a stick and drew a diagram on the beach right next to the
water — the dimensions of a landing craft. Then we all got inside of the draw¬
ing, twenty-five guys, and we gave a signal; then we rushed out and went to the
higher ground. That was our training for the landing, [laughter]
It took us three days to get to Italy. We were in the lead element, and when
we headed for shore I looked over on one flank where a landing craft had
stopped. Its gate opened and the soldiers came out. They plunged straight down
into the water. Later I saw some walking in, and I thought everybody made it,
but fifty or sixty of them drowned right there, because they had on all this
heavy equipment and machine guns. Then our coxswain stopped and opened
the gate on our craft, and we’re still 150 yards off shore. My corporal, who had
played center for Fordham, was my right-hand man. He stuck his M-l in this
guy’s back, and I thought I could see it coming out of the front, [laughter] The
Earl W. Ralf
coxswain revved that thing up and beached the son-of-a-gun. We landed on dry
We headed in on Salerno Beach and found it wasn’t defended, so we went on
up the road onto a little higher ground just south of Naples, and the next
morning we hit the enemy. One thing — you don’t get down on the lower
ground. We’d find the ridges, and we went fairly fast; even if we had to go five
miles further, we never got down on lower ground. We went straight up the
Italian peninsula. Our battalion commander’s name was Rockwell, and they
nicknamed our battalion “Rocky’s Ridge Runner Raiders.”
Around Thanksgiving we started getting up in the mountains, and it started
getting cold and freezing at night. Then we started real slow, tough combat on
the way to Cassino. By this time I’d been a rifle platoon leader, a weapons
platoon leader, a company commander . . . and I was still a second lieutenant,
because our commander didn’t believe in promotions, [laughter] Now I finally
became a first lieutenant: The intelligence officer in battalion S2 got hit in the
wrist, so I was immediately S2, but only for one day. Then the battalion com¬
mander got a crick in his neck from an old injury, so I went to S3, operations;
later to S3, 2nd Battalion; and then to S3, 133rd Infantry— field promotions.
All this happened during the week when we were approaching Cassino, which
is where the Germans had been dug in for two or three years and had concrete
gun emplacements. When we went into Cassino, our companies had maybe
150 men. We had one company get down to eight people; one company got
down to fifteen people; another one down to forty-five. They weren’t all killed,
but it was tough. In one place one of our guys turned the doorknob on a little
building, and the whole thing blew, just like that. There were something like
fifteen guys, not all dead, but they were casualties. We were at Cassino about
the 21st of January 1944, and we got out of there towards the end of February.
The battle itself lasted from January until May, but the New Zealanders re¬
We were pulled out of Cassino and went around the flank and into Anzio
after the battle there started. I had been promoted to captain by then. All these
captains from a battalion in Algiers, where they were palace guards for
Eisenhower’s headquarters, joined us. They were senior to me by two or three
years, but they had no combat experience, so I trained them, and we all went
into Anzio together. Our army broke out of Anzio in May, and we passed
through Rome before pushing north. When we got nine miles south of Bolo¬
gna, we ran out of troops. We had occupied regular villas in the mountains, and
from the second floor I could see Bologna. We sat there all winter.
“When Patton Showed Up
Captain Earl Ralf receives the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster. Le
Croci, Italy, February 1945.
Earl W. Ralf
I’d had a bum knee since I was fourteen years old from getting hit with a ball
bat, and I needed a knee operation. They sent me back to Tunis, and the doc¬
tors decided that I didn’t need to be operated on, so they sent me back to Italy.
While in the hospital in North Africa, I had met a nurse. When I went later
back to Rome to a rest camp, I found her there. I was supposed to go back to
the states in January on rotation, but we decided to get married. We had to get
permission and couldn’t get married until March. Then we went on a honey¬
moon to Sorrento, Capri, and elsewhere, and we really had two weeks living
like civilians before I was shipped back to the states. We sailed from Naples and
were at sea when Roosevelt died.
During World War II, Ralf was awarded the Combat Infantrymans Badge, the
Silver Star, and the Bronze Star with two oak leaf clusters. Following the war, he
was commissioned in the Regular Army, and served thirty years. Colonel Ralf came
to Nevada in 1965 as head of Military Science and commanding officer of the
ROTC program for the University of Nevada. He retired November 1, 1969.
“We Nisei Were Americans”
In 1900, at the age of fifteen, Masaichi
Nishiguchi immigrated to the United States
from Wakayama, Japan. Nishiguchi found
work laying track for railroads, eventually
becoming a section foreman. Through
baishakunin, go-betweens representing the two
families, he married Yaeno Kawaguchi, a
young woman from Osaka. Their son Roy was
born in 1915 in Provo, Utah. In 1933 Mr.
Nishiguchi’s work with the Western Pacific
Railroad required that he and his family relo¬
cate to Gerlach, Nevada. Roy took a job at the
local Portland Cement gypsum plant. He was
also a gifted athlete, and he playedfor the town
baseball team. In 1941 Roy was drafted into the United States Army. After basic
training, his Fort Ord unit sent him to Letterman General Hospital for additional
training as a medical technician. He played Baseball for Letterman, and continued
to play for them after graduating and returning to Fort Ord.
O N DECEMBER 7 I was pitching a game for the Letterman General Hospi¬
tal baseball team in the San Francisco Winter League. A fellow came
running on to the field in the third inning, shouting, “Pearl Harbor has been
bombed!” He was drunk, so nobody paid any attention to him, and the umpire
hustled him off. But when we finished the game and went to a bar for a beer,
the radio was blaring out the news that indeed, Pearl Harbor had been bombed:
“All military personnel report to their posts immediately.”
Gaydos, my catcher, said to hop in his car; he would drive me to the barracks
to pick up my personal gear, and then to the bus depot so I could get a bus back
to Fort Ord. Gaydos’s girlfriend was with us (she came to all our games), and
she was hanging back. He told her, “Come on, get in the car. I got to get Nish
to the depot.”
Members of the 1941 Letterman General Hospital baseball team pose
with Larry Powell of the Boston Red Sox. Roy Nishiguchi kneels at right
“No,” she said, “I’m not getting into a car with a goddamned Jap.” Oh, that
hit me hard.
“You bitch,” said Gaydos, and he slapped her ... left her on the sidewalk.
“Come on,” he said to me, “let’s go.” We drove to the bus depot and it was
bedlam there. A huge crowd was trying to board the buses, but they wouldn’t
let civilians get on; the military had to go first.
When I arrived back at Fort Ord, I found the entire area blacked out. They
thought Japan was right offshore, I guess, [laughter] My company was in for¬
mation in the street, ready to move out, so I got into my fatigues and put on my
equipment and joined them. We marched two miles away to East Garrison.
Many years before the war my dad was carving a toy boat for me, whittling
away and talking about war. He said, “Roy, if Japan and America fight, who you
going to fight for?”
I said, “Japan.” [laughter]
He said, “Baka !You were born in this country; you are an American. You
fight for your country.”
We Nisei Were Americans”
I was about twelve or thirteen. “You told me how Japanese would fight to the
death for their country,” I said. “I’m Japanese, so I’ll fight for them.”
He said, “You are American. This is your country — you fight for this coun-
Dad wanted to be an American so bad that he even adopted “Sam” for his
first name; but because of his race, he was out — immigration law prevented
those born in Japan from being naturalized. Even though he was bitter about
this, he studied American history and read American literature. “I’m going to
keep on reading,” he told me. “Everything I read is for me. Whether anybody
else wants it or not doesn’t matter.”
My dad loved his job and thought that being a section foreman for the rail¬
road was all a man could want. He had tried to persuade me to follow in his
footsteps: “You have your house furnished; you have your coal, and your kero¬
sene for lighting,” he had said. “What more could you ask? You can’t get that
anywhere else.” The railroad was his life.
In January following Pearl Harbor, the Western Pacific kicked my father out
— took his job away, claiming he was a security risk .... He and Mom were
ordered to leave their house and get off railroad property, and since the railroad
practically owned Gerlach, they didn’t know what to do. Their other son. Art,
had been inducted into the Army the week before, but one of my friends who
hadn’t yet been drafted helped them. He got a bunch of fellows together and
rented a little trailer for Mom and Dad. It was just big enough to hold a double
bed, and they moved it to a site that was off railroad property, which meant it
was out in the desert, out in the sagebrush. Stuck out there in the boondocks
. . . that’s what my mother and dad lived in through the winter. No toilet
facilities, no nothing.
My sister Mary and her husband, Chad Chadwell, journeyed from Tennes¬
see to care for my pre-teen sisters, who had been separated from Mom and
Dad. When Mary wrote to me and told me about the situation, I borrowed
money from Army buddies and made my way back to Gerlach. I walked out to
the trailer and knocked on the door. At first there was no response: Mom and
Dad were scared! They were afraid that someone had come out there to blast
them. I called out, “It’s Roy,” and my dad finally opened the door.
Well, there wasn’t a thing I could do for them. I only had a seven-day fur¬
lough, and no money. What could I do? I didn’t know anything. My friend Paul
Wayne told me, “Go back to Fort Ord. We’ll look out for your mom and dad.”
So I went back to Fort Ord, and eventually Mary was able to rent a house in
Reno and move our family into it.
The Army pulled all the Nisei off the west coast and transferred us to inland
units. Although we didn’t know where we were going, I, for one, thought that
I would soon be in combat. Boy, was I wrong! We Nisei were Americans, sol¬
diers in the United States Army; but for a year following Pearl Harbor, my
group was given only the kinds of jobs that had been performed by work details
from the stockade. I ended up assigned to the 1851st Service Unit at Camp
Wolters, Texas, a trained medic serving the Army by emptying garbage cans,
[laughter] We Nisei were denied promotion. When I was transferred from Fort
Ord to Camp Wolters I was a PFC, 5th class specialist; and when I was dis¬
charged almost three years later, I was still the same rank.
After the Hawaiian Nisei, the 100th Battalion, made such a good showing in
Europe, things got better for us. I was sent to Camp Barkley, Texas, for an
unforgettable six month “no-time-off” tour as a male nurse, and then to Mili¬
tary Intelligence Language School to learn Japanese, which I couldn’t speak
very well. English was my language. I had always gone to public schools, and
my dad was so gung ho on being an American that he had told Mom, “No use
spending money to send the kids to Japanese school. We’re in America.”
Language School was tough for me, but to flunk out would be disgraceful, so
I studied hard. Then, just before my group was sent overseas, a lump was found
on my neck. I had severely infected lymph glands. Sergeant Nakajima and the
rest of the guys left for the Pacific without me, and some time later, while I was
still in the hospital, word came back that he and his twelve interrogators and
interpreters were all dead. In fog over Okinawa, their C-47 had crashed into a
peak. Perhaps God was with me.
With my unit wiped out, and me carrying some sort of bad infection, the
Army wanted to give me a medical discharge. How could they? I had spent
years in uniform, and all my friends were in the Army.
“You can’t send me home,” I said.
“We have to.”
I made every possible plea. I told them, “You can’t discharge me. What will
my folks live on?” See, every month forty-five dollars out of my fifty-two dol¬
lars pay was put into a fund. Uncle Sam would match this, and my folks would
then get ninety dollars.
“We Nisei Were Americans”
“Well, we’ll give you a 100 percent disability, which is worth one hundred
and fifteen dollars.”
“No,” I said, “I don’t want to go home, there’s nobody there. All my buddies
are in the service.”
But they wouldn’t listen. I was discharged, and I went back to Nevada.
Following the war, Roy Nishiguchi attended the University of Nevada on the G. I.
Bill. He went on to become Materiel Facilities Officer at Stead Air Force Base,
worked for Lear Enterprises, and was a warehouse supervisor for K-Mart in Reno,
from which position he retired in 1986.
“Then the Whiskey Started to Come in Handy”
Clarence Becker was born in Rochester, New
York, November 18, 1918. During World
War II he enlisted in the Army Air Corps
and received extensive training in reconnais¬
sance. In the autumn of 1943, Becker was
stationed at MacDill Field in Tampa,
Florida, preparing to fly to India on
O UR F-10S (reconnaissance versions
of B-25s) had names painted on
them, and mine was the “Quivering
Queen” — a brand new plane. In November, 1943, just two days before we
were to leave, my plane had its five-man emergency life raft replaced with a
seven-man raft, which was stowed above the bomb bay in the upper part of the
left side of the fuselage. My entire crew plus all of our equipment and special
cameras were on board for the flight across the Atlantic. At 20,000 feet over the
Gulf just west of Fort Myers, Florida, up above an overcast, the life raft popped
out and caught on the left side of the tail, right where the vertical and horizon¬
tal stabilizers meet. This so upset the aerodynamics that the airplane began to
shake. I asked my navigator to give me a course back to MacDill, and we started
letting down through about 7,000 feet of overcast, with the airplane vibrating
By the time we broke out of the overcast, I could see MacDill Field way off
to the left, but I could also see that the engines were moving about a foot in
their mounts and pouring black oil. I was convinced they wouldn’t be with the
airplane when it hit the ground. Because of the noisy vibration, we did not have
any communications from the cockpit to the people in the back, so I sent my
co-pilot back and told him to make sure everybody was out of the rear before he
went. Everybody bailed out at about twelve thousand feet — pretty high, be-
cause we didn’t know how soon the airplane would come apart. Once left on its
own, it moved violently and actually turned in a great, wide circle. Then about
fifteen hundred to two thousand feet from the ground, it just came apart in
three pieces: the nose section; the wings and the bomb bay together; and the
My co-pilot wound up in a tree, but the rest of us landed in good shape — I
got a little bruise from hitting the aircraft on the way out. Somebody picked me
up close to where Busch Gardens is now, and we went over to the wrecked front
end of the airplane, where I found my little “fifty-mission” crusher hat, put it
on, and headed back to MacDill. I called my wife and said, “I’ll be a little late
for dinner tonight. I had to bail out of the Queen.” [laughter]
We returned from India in March, 1944, and we were sent to Salina, Kansas
to train on F-13s, reconnaissance versions of B-29s, in early August. We really
had problems with the first ones. They would overheat all four engines; the
cylinder head temperatures would be in the red. We would go through an abso¬
lute minimum pre-flight checklist, tow the airplane to the end of the runway,
start the engines and be airborne within a minute or two after starting the
fourth engine; and still, all four engines would be in the danger area before we
ever got off the ground. We would be flying across the wheat fields of Kansas at
about a hundred feet, wondering, “Well, should I just leave the power on and
climb, or shall I power back and scoot across the wheat fields?” We finally got to
the point where we would just go ahead and leave the power on, and then when
we got some altitude, throttle her back.
We trained sixteen crews in F-13s to begin with, of which four went back to
India. With eleven other crews, mine flew out to Saipan in November of 1944.
We were flying missions over Japan, but things weren’t going too well. Soon I
was sent down to Guam, close to General Curtis LeMay’s headquarters to build
our squadron quarters and to organize reconnaissance for him. The first of
General LeMay’s briefings that I attended, he asked, “What’s the matter with
reconnaissance on Saipan?” He looked at my squadron commander, and my
squadron commander looked at me to answer the question.
On Saipan, we were under “Possum” Hansell, a headstrong general with
whom I didn’t get along very well. He had been considered a great planner in
the Pentagon, and he liked to tell you how to do things. I told General LeMay,
“General, I think we’ve got an outfit that knows its job, but right now we’re
being told not only what to do, but how to do it. And what we’re being told isn’t
“Then the Whiskey Started to Come in Handy’
General LeMay reached in his pocket and took out a list and handed it to me
and said, “Here’s a list of one hundred cities. I want full coverage on them
within seven days. You show me you can do your job, and you and I’ll get along
fine.” We had them for him in five days, and I got along with him very well
I attended General LeMay s briefings to report on reconnaissance, normally
meeting first in the morning with intelligence staff as to priorities so we’d al¬
ready have planned what we were going to do the next day. We’d be taking off
anywhere from midnight to three in the morning, so by noon we had radio
reports from our airplanes using a very simple code to tell us whether we got
target A, B, C, or D, or we didn’t get anything. After General LeMay received
his weather reading, and we gave our reconnaissance report, we left while they
went into what the bombers were going to do.
To be close to General LeMay on Guam, they put us on Harmon Field,
which was a relatively short runway — maximum six thousand-foot runway,
with a gradual three-hundred-foot climb out of this little valley. On our mis¬
sions, we needed a longer field to take off from because we were heavily loaded.
Although we carried no bombs, we did have guns and ammunition and three
extra gasoline tanks that filled the front bomb bay to increase our range. So we
used North Field (now called Anderson Air Force Base) at the north end of
Guam, where there were two parallel ten-thousand-foot runways with about
two hundred to three hundred feet off the end of the runway down to the
water. That’s where we staged in the afternoon, which means the crew would fly
light — not be fully gassed. It was like a check flight, just a short flight over to
North Field, every day, on every airplane. Then we would bus our crews back,
put them to bed, get them up at about midnight, feed them, and bus them up
to North Field; and they took off from there in their fully loaded and fueled
Ours were the first B-29s in sight while driving up the island highway from
the docks. Everybody always wanted to ride in them, and we were able to give
many Navy people and others a hop on these little staging flights. My Uncle
Clarence was a Navy officer, and when his ship came to Guam I took him, his
skipper, and his executive officer on one of these flights up to North Field. It
turned out to be a profitable flight for my unit:
When we had first got down to Saipan, we had obtained three walk-in ice¬
boxes from the Navy and the Seabees in trade for a few cases of booze. Of
course, our justification was that we needed to have controlled, cool tempera¬
tures to store our film. That’s the only excuse we could legally use for getting
them, [laughter] On the flight to North Field, my uncle asked, “How much
freezer storage space do you have?” His ship had orders to return to Pearl, and
they had a fifty percent emergency ration that they had to leave behind. They
were going to turn it over to Navy headquarters unless they could find someone
else who had the cold storage space. We came back with sides of beef and hams
and turkeys, and we wound up eating like kings for months, [laughter]
Before we left the states, the officers club at our base at Smoky Hill (Salina,
Kansas) gave us a check for $1,300 — proceeds from the club’s slot machines.
With this, we bought three hundred dollars worth of power tools and a thou¬
sand dollars worth of whiskey, and took them in our bomb bays with us to
Saipan. We didn’t tap into them in Saipan, but when we went down to Guam
we used the power tools to build a tent city in two weeks by setting up this little
production line to build the foundations and the frames.
“We used the power tools to build a tent city in two weeks.
“Then rhe Whiskey Started to Come in Handy”
Then the whiskey really started to come in handy. First of all, it took three
cases to get us those three walk-in iceboxes. Then we were between the docks
and the Corps of Engineers lumber yard, so trucks had to pass us leaving. Every
time we’d start running low on lumber, we had somebody wave a bottle of
booze at a lumber truck, and we’d have what we needed the next day. For our
flight commanders, for a case of booze, we got five Frigidairs to put into our
tents. And we had gadgets we could use for making soda water ... so it was
quite a set-up. The Seabees (construction battalions), and the Navy seemed to
control all the goodies, but we swapped our booze for the good things of life, if
you will. Quid pro quo. [laughter]
For every flight, there were four or five days of crew rest in between. The
men needed places to relax, so we put up a couple of clubs. We built our en¬
listed club before we built the officer’s club — we thought it just made good
sense. There was a beautiful bay, where we could swim within the reefs, with
lots of sand beaches and coconut trees. There weren’t any gals, but it was still
something to do. We would write letters home, go to movies — had lots of
movies — and the USO brought in troupes with some famous entertainers.
By now our unit had completely changed its role, from a strategic role in the
United States to true reconnaissance, a tactical role. Aaid the crews had gotten
bigger. When we started in South America in 1942, flying twin-engined
Beechcraft F-2s, we’d take a crew chief, photographer, and the pilot — just
three of us. When we got into B-25s, we had a five-man crew. In the B-29, we
had mostly eleven-man crews: we had four gunners, including a central fire
control gunner, two pilots, a radar navigator, a flight engineer, a radio operator,
and a photographer.
My first mission out of Saipan was flown to divert attention from our bomb¬
ers. We arrived thirty minutes ahead of the bomber force southeast of Tokyo.
At thirty-two thousand feet, we dropped chaff to confuse the enemy radar.
Drawn to our chaff, the Japanese planes came up, and we could see they were
all single-engined fighters that were stalling out at around thirty to thirty-one
thousand feet. Japanese flak could reach us, but they didn’t have many planes
that could go to thirty-three thousand feet, and we were just a couple of thou¬
sand feet above them. Our diversion was effective, and the bomber force didn’t
have any fighter opposition till they were practically to the target. Instead, we
had the fighters on our tails for about a hundred miles.
We took a lot of hits on a mission where I wound up with a twenty-millime¬
ter incendiary round in one gas tank. The airplane that did it was one that
could stay with us at any altitude, a twin-engined fighter. He picked us up
before we ever got to Osaka, and he closed in on us. Our gunners fired back,
and he backed off. We went on with our mission to Nagoya and Tokyo, and
were coasting out southeast of Tokyo when he made a second pass at us. We had
pulled the power back considerably, because once we were off the coast, unless
we had fighters in sight, we had to conserve fuel. All of a sudden I heard guns
firing. Now, sometimes when we finished a mission wed cook off a round or
two from our guns, but the CFC gunner called and said, “Captain, it’s not a
cook-off. Some gook is making a second pass at us.” [laughter] He snuck up
under us. He finally gave up, but not before he had hit us many times —
fortunately he hadn’t damaged much except the skin. He hit one gas tank with
an incendiary round that should have blown up, but didn’t. Otherwise, we
would have been history [laughter]. After we landed, we found forty or fifty
holes in the airplane.
My role changed: I went from being a flight commander and pilot to the one
planning the operations. My job was concentrated on the mission, period. One
of the things that was most important at the altitudes we were flying was the jet
stream. You would have a hundred to a hundred-and-fiffy mile an hour wind,
almost west to east, constant, so there was a big difference between coming in
from the west and coming in from the east. We’d plan our mission to start out
heading for Kyushu, then climb to high altitude on a northeast heading, and
then fly roughly west to east to the target. When you had to, you turned, and
then came out southeast and gradually let down, which gave you many miles
over Japan. If you had flown the mission from east to west, you would have had
a very small portion of those miles over Japan. This way you had the opportu¬
nity to get three or four times as many targets photographed.
In the bombing campaign against Japan, the initial thrust was against indus¬
trial targets, especially airplane manufacturers. Our B-29s were trying to bomb
from high altitude, but because of the jet stream and problems with their bomb¬
ing equipment, we needed to bring them down lower to do the kind of damage
we wanted. General LeMay brought them down to five thousand feet to bomb.
Even though the losses were heavier, the results warranted it.
My squadron flew pre-strike and post-strike photo reconnaissance missions
— pre-strikes so the bombers would know where the targets were, and then
follow-ups to record the results of their bombing. When we flew post-strikes,
sometimes we went in right after the bombers. Our squadron would be over
Then the Whiskey Started to Come in Handy’
every target at least twice; often, several times more than that. Then the incen¬
diary bombing campaign started the ninth of March with a raid which burned
out thirteen-and-a-half square miles of Tokyo in one night. Several missions
after that, we burned out roughly the same amount again, so by the end of the
war about twenty-seven square miles of Tokyo had gone up in flames. After
Tokyo came Nagoya, Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe. Those were the main popula¬
tion centers. We and the bombers were flying every day. Many times it would
be a maximum strength thing; other times, against certain targets, it might be
just a wing or a group from Tinian or Saipan.
The first week of August, 1945, I was asked to submit the names of two
crews to fly a special mission out of Tinian. I wasn’t told what the mission was,
but I knew it must be important, because this was such an unusual request: I
wasn’t allowed to change any of the names of the crew members, even a few
days before the mission when somebody got sick. I suspected they were going
to photograph the results of a bigger bomb, maybe a twenty-thousand pound
bomb; but those crews wound up as trailer crews, flying over the target about
fifteen minutes after the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Another airplane flew closer to the Enola Gay , monitoring what went on with
the bomb — just individuals with hand-held cameras.
Our squadron’s airplane took the picture of the atomic cloud that wound up
on the cover of Life magazine a couple of weeks later. It also took pictures of the
damage to Hiroshima. We had the only decent photo lab in the Marianas at the
time, so I flew an F-2 up to Tinian that evening, picked up the film, brought it
back down to our lab in Guam, and stayed with it. I got back around eleven
o’clock, saw the pictures of the damage, and took them over to General LeMay’s
headquarters around two in the morning.
Damage that equalled what had been done by a couple of hundred airplanes
over Tokyo in March had been done with one weapon at Hiroshima. It had
wiped out the city. On the second atomic mission, the primary target was Yawata,
an industrial city at the very northern tip of Kyushu, on the Shimonoseki Straits.
But the weather was bad — Yawata was socked in — so they hit their secondary
target, Nagasaki. They missed their aiming point by a good mile, but they sure
did a lot of damage even with that kind of a miss. The bomb, which was an air
burst like the one at Hiroshima, reduced a steel mill to a bunch of twisted
girders, which shows you the power of that particular weapon.
About three days later, I flew up to take pictures and try to get some decent
post-strike coverage of Nagasaki. First, I went up to a high altitude and got
more pictures of Hiroshima; then I let down to about fifteen hundred feet to
get the photographs that I still have of Nagasaki. You had to be very alert,
because we didn’t know whether the Japanese had quit or not, but I had a sense
that this was going to be the end of the war. They had nothing left. After seeing
the devastation wrought by atomic bombs, my first thought was, “Well, man’s
either going to have learn to live with man, or we won’t have a world to be
living in.” My second thought was, “Now I’m going to get to go home.”
Clarence Becker continued his military career in the Air Force Reserve Program and
was recalled to active duty in 1951. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1967 as
a colonel and came to Reno in 1968 to open the west coast office of National Data
“Put the WASPs on It”
Hazel Hohn was born in Brooklyn, New York
to parents who divorced when she was a baby.
Her grandmother, who often cut out newspaper
pictures about flying, was a strong influence in
her life. Her step-father also loved flying and
would take her to the Newark, New Jersey air¬
port to watch the planes take off. In eighth grade,
her fate was sealed:
T HE TWO WOMEN PILOTS I was aware
of as a child were Amelia Earhart and
Anne Lindbergh, and both of them had rich
husbands. When I’d see them in photos at
the end of a flight with great big flying clothes on, they always looked sort of
haggard. I thought you had to be masculine and have a lot of money to be a
woman pilot! [laughter] Then when I was around twelve years old, I met Amelia
Earhart at a junior high school program, and from then on, that was it. I wanted
As opposed to what we saw in the newspapers, Amelia Earhart was very
feminine, and that made me think flying was something I could do. She was
also very modest. They praised her during the introduction, and the whole time
she kept her head in her hands and looked down. She described the beauty and
poetry and adventure of flight, while telling us her experiences. After her talk,
we ran out after her, and she told us about her plans for a flight around the
world. That would become her last flight. We asked for her autograph; and she
said if we would cut a picture of her out of the paper and send it to her, she
would autograph it and send it back. Well, before I could do that, she was gone,
but now I had a role model.
I made scrapbooks of airplanes, and I’d hike out to the airport and bum
rides. I was too young to actually take lessons, but anytime someone had an
extra seat, they’d take me up with them. I was scared to death on my first flight,
because I had seen pictures of airplanes crashing, [laughter] The slightest bank
scared me, but when I landed, I still wanted to fly.
I didn’t see or hear from my dad until I was seventeen years old. He wanted
me to go to business college, but I didn’t want to become a secretary. He said,
“Girls should be secretaries or teachers. All girls should know how to type and
take shorthand.” But I said, “No, I want to go to Aeronautical School.” That
wasn’t very practical, since I was only sixteen when I graduated from high school
in 1939. Since I was still young, he thought I could go to business college first,
because I could always get a job with those skills. So I went to business college
like he wanted, but I deliberately flunked the whole year so I could get out of it!
After that I went to work at the Prudential Insurance Company, and I took
flying lessons at Newark airport. I didn’t have any practical ideas about what I
was going to do with flying. There wasn’t much in the way of flying jobs for
women in those days, but I still wanted to do it. When I started flying planes at
Newark airport, I was making eighteen dollars a week, and it was costing eleven
dollars an hour to fly duo. I got in about one hour of flying time in a month,
[laughter] I went without new clothes, and I’d walk to the airport, which was
ten miles, if I didn’t have the money for a bus; or I’d dust the office for five
minutes of flying time!
After Pearl Harbor they closed all the airports on the coast, and everyone had
to go two hundred miles inland to fly. I had no idea how I was going to keep
flying, but one day I picked up Look magazine, and it had a picture of a girl
with an airplane. She was a test pilot making a parachute jump. There was also
a story about Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, where Piper Cubs were made. The
magazine said that there were welding jobs available at Lock Haven, so I wrote
and got a job through the mail. When I arrived I found that a lot of the workers
there were biding their time. The women were waiting to go into the WASPs,
and the men were waiting to get into the Air Force. This was a lot of fun,
because we were all flying. We could fly for about a dollar an hour, instead of
eleven dollars an hour, so I worked the swing shift and the graveyard shift in
order to fly during the day.
When ail my friends joined the WASPs, I didn’t want to stay in Lock Haven,
so I moved to California and again worked for Prudential Insurance. Initially,
you had to have something like two hundred hours of flying time to be in the
WASPs, but this was eventually lowered to thirty-five hours. I had enough time
“Put the WASPs on It”
by March of 1943 to join, but I was still too young; I had to wait till October,
when I turned twenty-one.
We went to Sweetwater, Texas for seven months of combined primary, basic,
and advanced training. I felt like I was on a high all the time, because I was
flying and doing what I wanted to do. But some of the instructors did not want
women to fly — they would tell you to your face that they didn’t want you. A
few flight instructors would sexually harass you, and you would just try to
avoid them. At Lock Haven we had called one instructor “Handy Andy.” He
would sit in the back seat and grab us on the chest when he wanted to pull
himself forward. We didn’t even think of protesting any of this. Who would
you protest to? It was all male at the top! Civilian life was the same. In those
days, you didn’t have the women’s movement, but we just kept going; we didn’t
let anyone stop us.
We were trained to do a variety of jobs — to ferry, tow targets, test, teach,
and fly big brass around. Towing targets was one of the most dangerous. We
would fly a B-26 Martin Marauder, and they’d be shooting at the target that we
towed behind, but as often as not they’d shoot the tow-plane. They’d shoot
from an airplane that was flying alongside us, and there were guns firing from
the ground, too. I don’t know of anyone being shot down while towing a target,
but the WASPs lost women to accidents and other causes. We had thirty-eight
people killed out of the whole group, and there was no hospitalization, no
death benefits, no anything. You had to pass the hat to get enough money to
ship the body home. There was just nothing for us, you know.
To test engineering, they liked women to be the pilots. When a man would
get discouraged and think of quitting, he’d see us going up as test pilots, and
he’d think, “Well, if a woman can do it, so can I!” We were a challenge to them.
Anytime there was something wrong with a plane they’d redline it, and no man
could fly it until we tested it. If they put a new wing on, we’d take it up for an
hour of aerobatics to see if the wing would stay on. The only time testing is
really dangerous is if you have a new engine. We tested engines by slow time —
that means flying slow and then ramming it forward. Right there, a lot of en¬
gines would quit, so we stayed pretty near the field. We always knew there was
danger, but we couldn’t think about it.
When Nancy Love started the WASPs, it was strictly to do ferrying, because
she didn’t think women could do anything else. Ferrying meant getting the
planes out of the factory, and flying them to various locations. This would be
“WASPs were required to wear their hair under turbans for the full eight months of flight
training. Stating that he was afraid that women would get their hair caught in propellors
or other machinery, Major Urban asked us to wear it wrapped up ‘swami-like’ in white
cloth. This fashion became known as Urbans Turbans. " Hazel Stamper (Hohn) is at right.
the first time those planes were flown. There was no testing in advance, so you
had no idea if they checked out and everything worked or not.
Ferrying was an important mission, but a lot of women wanted to be in
combat. Jacqueline Cochran, our leader, was very much against that. She didn’t
think we’d make good mothers after the war if we went to combat; it would
make us hardened, [laughter] She was a pretty tough cookie, herself, and was
“Put the WASPs on It”
probably the best woman pilot in the world. She still holds more records than
any man or woman, both speed and racing records.
After we graduated and got our wings in May, 1944, I was sent to the Air
Transport Command, Ferrying Command, Romulus, Michigan. I wanted to
fly fighter planes, and being at Air Transport Command was the way to fly
them. I went through transition on a Norseman, which is a Canadian plane,
and a twin-engine Cessna, and from there I went directly to a B-24 as a copilot.
The B-24 was the largest bomber in the world. We picked them up right from
the factory; nobody had ever flown these planes before, so we were really pro¬
duction test pilots. Mainly we flew them to points of embarkation to be sent to
When we got up in the morning, we never knew what we were going to fly
or where we were going to be that night. We never knew until we got there how
we were going to get back. SNAFU, which was an Army airline, went around
picking ferry pilots up, but that wasn’t always the way we got back. We also
hitchhiked on Army vehicles, or returned by train or by commercial airline.
(We had top priority and could bump anyone but the president.) And then
we’d go right back out the next morning again. Just a constant. . . seven days
a week. We got six dollars a day per diem for expenses any day we were away
from base, which paid for hotels and meals. The men got seven dollars.
I liked flying to Canada, because I could buy things there without rationing
coupons. One friend had bought some Limoges, very expensive china. She
didn’t have enough room for it in her baggage compartment and wanted to
know if I would take it. I was so scared that I was going to crash and destroy all
this china, that I wasn’t worried about getting killed, [laughter] I thought if I
got forced down on the border, I’d be smuggling.
We flew with different crews. Most of the time, I had never met the crew
before the flight. In a B-24, the seat on the right was the copilot’s, and the seat
on the left was for the pilot or first pilot. During the flight, the pilot and the
engineer would often go back and play cards, and I would slide over to the left
seat and do all the flying. I actually got more left seat flying time in than the
One time the pilot was this guy who had been a big shot in combat, and he
didn’t want to be doing this boring ferrying. He wanted the real stuff as in
Europe, and he was the type that wasn’t going to let anyone tell him what to do.
We were supposed to take off at dawn every day, but on this day we took off
about ten, because he wasn’t about to get up early. We came to a squall line of
Walt Disney presented the WASPs with an insignia — a hel-
meted, goggled gremlin named "Fifinella."
thunderstorms, so he came up front to take over. He flew right into that squall
line. That was a real exciting experience. I just sat there and looked out the
window. It was absolutely awesome — these big thunderheads right off our
wing. But he had a very difficult time. He almost lost it. He was almost out of
control — nearer than he expected — and we came out sixty miles off course
and landed at a closed field. He was pretty scared, but I was enjoying the sight
out the window, [laughter] I trusted him to get us out of it, because he had been
a combat pilot.
When I was testing in Greenwood, Mississippi, we tested eight hours a day,
six, maybe seven days a week. I didn’t like Mississippi, because of the racial
problems there, and I got in trouble for that. I used to take pre-flight cadets in
the back seat. They were allowed to go and I’d fly aerobatics with them. One
“Put the WASPs on It”
day this black soldier — who was a mechanic — wanted to know if I’d teach
him to fly. I said sure, because I had taken the other guys up. First, I gave him
some ground school, and we were walking around together, and then I took
him up. I let him fly. He was a very good student, and he really wanted to fly.
When we were coming in, the tower called and said, “Stamper (my maiden
name), report to the tower when you get down.”
I was told in no uncertain terms what would happen to me if I ever associ¬
ated with a black man again. They told me I’d probably be killed, and him too.
White girls did not do that in Mississippi. There were a lot of lynchings in those
days, but I didn’t like anyone telling me who I could associate with. I was just
rebellious enough that I would have done it again. I used to sit in the back of
the bus when I wasn’t supposed to and go in black waiting rooms. Anyway, I
was transferred the next week, so nothing happened. I’ve never been back in
Initially, there weren’t enough male pilots for combat, so they had women fly
all the stateside jobs. We were ferrying all the fighters. Eighty percent of all
fighters built during WWII were ferried by women, and 100 percent of the P-
47s in 1944. They promised us that if we proved we could fly military planes,
after two years we would be fully militarized. But at the end of the two years,
men had started coming back from Europe. We were still flying while they were
waiting on tables. That was a bad scene. There were only a thousand of us, and
there were something like thirteen thousand of them, and they wanted our
jobs. There was sabotage: they put sugar in my gas tanks and cut cables. Then
they went to Washington and lobbied Congress, and Congress and got rid of
us. At the time, Eisenhower and General Arnold were in Europe planning for
the D-day invasion. They couldn’t come back to support us, which they had
wanted to do. These different men’s groups just got rid of us, and by only eleven
We kept on doing our jobs, even though we knew the end was coming. I
went to Florida and was taking transitional on the B-26, which was a Marauder.
It was called the “widow maker,” or they would say, “One a day in Tampa Bay.”
Some men refused to fly the B-26 because it was so dangerous. A lot of them
were killed, so they put the WASPs on it, which is what they did with the B-29s
and everything else. We loved it, and I don’t think there was ever an accident.
And because it landed faster than any other plane, I finally felt like I was close
to flying a fighter, a hot plane, [laughter]
The end of the WASPs came December 20, 1944. We hadn’t done anything
wrong — it was just that most of the men didn’t want women flying. It’s the
same with any new thing that women are doing . . . there’s a reaction. Going
back to civilian life was a big nothing, [laughter] It was boring compared to
what we had been doing, and suddenly we’re just in civilian clothes again. A
uniform does make a difference. Civilian life just wasn’t as crisp, and it was hard
getting used to it again. It took a year.
Even though we were on the cutting edge of women flying, we didn’t think
of it that way. In fact, I was rather disappointed. I hadn’t done all that I had
wanted to do. I wanted to be like Amelia Earhart; I wanted to be a pioneer. I
wanted to be a fighter pilot, so I felt I had failed, [laughter] Now, of course,
people think that what the WASPs did was really great, and within the last five
or six years everything has changed. Recognition was long overdue, especially
for those who were killed. The families of men who were killed got ten thou¬
sand dollars insurance money. Those women . . . their families never got any¬
We didn’t even get a parade. After the war, I was working in downtown New
York — Manhattan — and every day it was real exciting because the ships were
returning from Europe with soldiers. They paraded down Broadway, and we’d
throw ticker tape. Never occurred to me that I could have been among them;
we should have been, but I never thought about it.
After we got out, we WASPs sort of split up and started families and all that.
In the early 1970s we started reading in the papers about the first women mili¬
tary pilots. We said, “Hey, that was us!” So we started writing letters, and we
began finding each other again, and we came together for a reunion in Reno.
Then we began lobbying for our GI Bill.
Senator Barry Goldwater and General Arnold’s son really fought for us to get
us our GI Bill. Senator Goldwater said he was going to put a rider on every bill
that went out of Congress until we got our GI Bill, because he flew with WASPs
in the war. Finally, Thanksgiving Day, 1977,1 think it was, Jimmy Carter signed
the bill, and we got our benefits. In 1981 I graduated from the Western Nevada
Community College in Carson City in 1981 on the GI Bill, and we WASPs got
our medals about thirty-five years late.
Hazel Hohn is actively involved in veteran’s affairs for women. She writes and
speaks frequently on behalf of the World War II WASPs.
“ . . . and I’m Wondering What John Wayne
Gene Evans was bom in Baltimore, Mary¬
land on October 12, 1920. His parents sepa¬
rated, and Evans was raised by his mother
and strongly influenced by her fiance to at¬
tend the Naval Academy. He graduatedfrom
Annapolis High School in 1937, but child¬
hood polio, which had paralyzed the left side
of his face, prevented him from entering the
I FELT LIKE PART OF THE NAVY FAMILY and would have gotten an appoint¬
ment to the Academy except for one thing — I couldn’t be accepted because
I had, quote, “a facial defect.” Eventually, I decided to try to become a pilot in
the Army Air Corps. For this I needed two years of college, so in 1940 I joined
a friend at Washington State College in Pullman.
I was on the football team. Whenever we returned to town from an away
game, the student body came out — the bands were there, the cheerleaders
were there, and everybody was happy whether you had won or lost. On Sun¬
day, December 7, 1941, we returned to Pullman from an away game which we
had lost, 7-0. When the train stopped, instead of the sound of a band playing,
it was dead silent. Someone on the platform said, “Haven’t you heard? The
Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor!” I get goose bumps just thinking about this
day. All those kids that I had gone to high school with in Annapolis had been to
Pearl somewhere along the line. I said, “Christ, we’re at war,” and then it kind
of hit home.
The college soon became almost a ghost campus, because guys were leaving.
I was in ROTC and wanted to go on to advanced ROTC, but I ran into the
same old bugaboo, the face. Every time an Air Corps recruiter would come, I’d
be the first in line, but I’d always get the same thing: “Hey, I’m sorry. You got a
facial defect.” I also got turned down by the Navy and the Marines. I started to
get mad. I’d say, “Check with my coaches. I’m physically OK. I got 20/20
vision. Hell, I got great eye-hand coordination. I’m good.”
I had registered for the draft and was 1 A, but my number never came up, so
I wrote a letter to President Roosevelt: “I’ve been turned down by various
branches of the service only because I have a facial defect. I had infantile paraly¬
sis, just as you had. You’ve gone on to become the president of our country. I
just want to serve as an officer in the armed forces, but I can’t, and I don’t
understand. Can you give me an explanation?” I got an answer back, but not
from the president. The matter had been turned over to the surgeon general of
the Navy, who sent a letter saying, “We have reviewed your case and find your
problem is disqualifying. Thank you for your interest.”
Now I’m really pissed! [laughter] I’m really hot. If I can’t be an officer ....
All I want to do is . . . get killed. Really. I’m going to prove to them that I’m
good enough to get killed! So I joined a program called the enlisted reserve. In
the ERC you could finish out school, and I was in the Army.
After basic training at Camp Roberts and a stint as a corporal in the training
cadre at Ft. Ord, I was sent to Hawaii to join I Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th
Infantry Division. Shortly after I arrived we started loading up to go to Yap, a
little island just north of Iwo Jima. About the third day at sea, we pick up a
radio announcement from “Tokyo Rose,” who was very big in the Pacific in
those days. She was playing all the good music, and she had a great voice.
“Aren’t you homesick for this, boys? Why don’t you tell your superior officers to
let you out of there and go on home? You don’t want to do this. And oh, you
boys of the 7th Infantry, you’ll like Yap. We’ve got a great welcoming party set
for you. Unfortunately, a lot of you are never going home.”
“Yap!” How in the hell? By now we’re getting goose bumps. They knew
where we were going and the day we were going to land. They had the whole
thing down, and our orders had been sealed until we got to sea. I thought,
“Well, maybe I don’t want to die yet. Jesus Christ! I mean, give me a chance to
at least get ashore and make myself known.” The whole day, we keep getting
music interspersed with these little messages from Tokyo Rose. Finally we get
an order to proceed to Eniwetok in the Marshalls, where we have an R&R (rest
and recreation) on the beach. They’ve got beer, and gosh, you don’t get much
beer out there. All that stuff on Yap disappears, and we get information on the
On October 20th we’re landing on Leyte. I’m expecting to go in as body¬
guard to Capt. James Parker, the company commander whose code name is
. . . and I’m Wondering What John Wayne Would Do.”
“Swede,” but instead I’m assigned to his assistant, a lieutenant whose first name
is Bruno, code name “Bear.” The first wave hits and is under fire. The second
wave goes in and a couple of the landing craft get knocked out; one gets hit
right alongside of us, and some bodies are floating around. I’m in the third
wave. The ramp drops, and I go maybe ten feet and hit the ground, because
there are mortars coming in, and they’re peppering us pretty good. K Company
has landed to my right, and by the time I get out of the way of a tank so I can
see what the hell’s happening, here comes a Nip. He’s got the longest goddamned
bayonet you’ll ever want to see. It has to be about thirty feet long, [laughter]
(We had stubby little suckers that didn’t sparkle. Japanese bayonets were all
steel, stainless looking. The sun would hit them and they’d glitter.) Here he’s
racing right at me. I know damn well he is, and I’m enthralled ... this is what
good movies are made of, and I’m wondering what John Wayne would do.
Coming up on my right is Sergeant Aspenwall from K Company — an Ameri¬
can Indian. We just call him Chief. The Chief does a very classic maneuver that
you’re taught in basic training: he takes his rifle and knocks the Jap’s bayonet
down, and then swings up with his rifle butt and catches him in the face,
knocks him backward, and then punches his bayonet into the Jap’s chest.
I said, “Damn! Chief did that by the book!” Meanwhile, I hadn’t made a
move to shoot this sucker, and I could have. I had him in sight for thirty yards.
I have thought back on it many times: why didn’t I do something? It wasn’t that
I was frozen with fear; hell, it didn’t bother me at all. I was just... so entranced
by this picture.
Alongside of me is a chubby little corporal, the company clerk. He was a
violin virtuoso, played in the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, but now he’s
lying on his belly on Leyte with a carbine in his hands, and he’s scared. We don’t
know where anybody is. I’m not with my platoon, I’m not with the squad, and
I don’t know where the officers from headquarters company are. This young
man tags on to me, and we are alone.
We get off the beach, and to our right is a little coconut grove surrounding a
grass shack, with a little white fence around it. I start toward that, because
there’s some bullets snapping around and mortars are going off periodically. We
come into heavy grass, maybe three feet tall, and to my left the grass starts to
wiggle. I’m carrying an M-l, and I give it a quick burst — bam , bam , bam.
From the grass I hear, “Oh . . . oh!” and I think, “God, I got my first Jap.”
Then I see what I’ve shot.
The scared corporal keeps asking, “What is it? What is it?”
“A fucking pig,” I tell him. [laughter] I shot a pig in the grass.
We start moving again, looking for our company, walking along very gin¬
gerly and kind of crouched, and suddenly I fall down a well. I look up and
here’s the corporal sitting on the side looking down at me. It seemed like a
lifetime, but in four or five minutes another figure appears looking down at
me. It’s Bear, and he says, “What the hell you doing down there, Evans?”
It was very, very hot, and we were all soaking wet from perspiration. I said,
He says, “Well, the war is up here!”
I said, “Good. Let it stay.” [laughter] God, we had this whole conversation
before he finally helps me up and out.
We find our outfit, or the remnants of the right flank of it, and they’re
pinned down in a swamp by machine gun fire coming out of a grove of banana
trees. We lie down in the muck, and I’m crawling, when one of the soldiers gets
bit by a snake. Well, I get up and start running, because I’ve always been afraid
of snakes. Everybody thinks I’m making an assault, so the whole damn outfit
gets up and starts running, and they take this airfield. I’m still kind of on my
own, away from all of this. Nobody really cares about me, and that’s OK, be¬
cause I’m not with any squad; I’m not with a platoon; I’m with the company
commander, and I don’t know where in the hell he is. And he’s not that anxious
to find out where I am, either.
That night I dig in alongside a dirt road. I’ve already dug about a foot down
when here comes Bear again, so I have to dig the hole a little wider. The corpo¬
ral has dug himself a little slit trench. About midnight or one o’clock, here
come Japanese tanks down this road. The lead tank has infantry riding on its
back. We start firing at them, and their machine gun starts spraying the area. As
they go past me, just a few feet away, a bazooka nails the tank in the rear. The
thing bursts into flames immediately and, Christ, Japs are coming off of it all
over the place — just five or six, but it seemed like a mess of them. The hatch
of the tank pops open, and a guy who had to be a Sumo wrestler comes out like
a woman getting out of a girdle. As he gets up, he’s silhouetted by the fire out of
the tank, and I put a whole burst into him — bam , bam , bam. Let him have it
good, and he flops back over the opening. There’s a couple other guys inside,
and they can’t get out. You can hear them screaming, and .... One of our guys
yells, “Burn, you bastards!” And they did. The tank burned right there, and it
got so hot that I had to get out of there.
A couple of tanks had gone on through down to the beach, and in about
. . . and I’m Wondering What John Wayne Would Do.
forty minutes, here they come back. We’ve got Japs all around us, and we have
a pretty interesting evening .... We finally get it calmed down about four
o’clock in the morning, but a couple of hours later, here come more tanks. We
have a cruiser and a couple of destroyers out in the bay giving fire support to
our unit as were moving ahead, so we call for some fire on the tanks. Unfortu¬
nately, the first two rounds are short — they land in right amongst us. The
platoon sergeant is hit. . . Carbone, big Italian guy, nice guy. The Navy was a
little off target, and we weren’t carrying flags on our helmets or anything like
that. It was human error; it wasn’t intentional. But the guys were pissed at the
Navy, as they always were anytime you came under friendly fire.
We get on a hill, and I finally catch up to the company commander. I’m
supposed to be protecting this guy, and I think he should be protecting me,
because he’s a nut! I say, “Swede, I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to
prove, but you’re trying to get me killed!”
Swede says, “Oh, hell, stay with me and we’ll get through this sucker.” It’s a
tough hill. The platoon sergeant gets hit; a couple of squad leaders get hit. We
get blown back, and they’re doing a good job on us when Bear goes berserk —
decides he’s going to take this hill alone. He starts out, saying, “The Bear’s gone
over the mountain!”
Swede yells at me, “Get him, Evans!” [laughter] I jump up and make a flying
tackle, like in my football days, and roll Bear back down the hill. We call medics
in, and the next time I see him he’s in a straitjacket, still saying, “The Bear’s
gone over the mountain! The Bear’s gone over the mountain!” I guess they call
it combat fatigue, but.... He really went off his rocker after just a couple of
I was on Leyte from October 20 to December 8, and got hit twice. The first
time was a bomb fragment in the hand. It was a nominal wound, but it meant
a Purple Heart. Then, while we were watching the landing of the 77th Infantry
at Ormoc on December 8th, the last battle on Leyte, I am embarrassed to say I
caught a mortar fragment in my butt. They couldn’t take it out in the field, so
I was sent to a hospital in New Guinea.
When I recovered enough to go back to my unit, a reinforced battalion was
being put together to go to Camote, where the Japanese had massacred and
raped and killed women, children, dogs, cats — whatever was on the island. A
lieutenant colonel was cashiered out because he wouldn’t take us: “No, these
guys just come off the line, and they need some time. Give them a chance; I
won’t take them.” They relieved him of his command, and we spent three days
of just nothing but a solid fire fight with about five thousand Japanese. We had
maybe five hundred men total. It was a hell of a battle, but it was a good one.
From there, we got the call to go to Okinawa, which was on the way to
Tokyo. We landed in the middle of the island — two Marine divisions to our
left, and two Army divisions to the right. That was Easter Sunday, 1945 . . .
April Fool’s Day. It was the easiest landing in the whole Pacific, in the whole
war 1 The Japanese had all moved south because the Marines had made a feint
on the southern end of the island. When we turned south, we caught the whole
Japanese force. They had nothing but cave after cave after cave on the hills. And
at Conical Hill, I got hit again.
We had just come up to the base of it, to Rocky Crags, and I was on my knees
digging in. Right behind me a guy could see mortar shells coming in, kind of
fluttering as they come, and he yells, “Evans! Look out!” As I turn to look, the
mortar fin hits my shoulder, glances off and kills the kid that yelled at me. Blew
me over! If it had hit me in the chest, that would’ve been all she wrote. Fate or
whatever caused this young boy to yell; caused me to turn to look at him;
caused the shell to catch me with its fin. If the nose had hit my chest, it obvi¬
ously would have exploded. Now, why? How do you answer that? I don’t know.
Maybe I should’ve got it and he should’ve lived.
I got hit on May 8th, went to the naval hospital on Guam, and when I got
back our unit already had orders for the invasion of Japan. Boy, was I glad that
they dropped that atom bomb. Truman went miles high in my estimation. And
I read now that it’s politically incorrect to say that the atomic bomb was a good
thing. There are a hell of a lot of people alive today who are very thankful that
that bomb was dropped, and that the second one went, too. It was a feeling of
euphoria: “Boy, this sucker is over, and I made it!”
I had a problem getting out of the Army, because they couldn’t find my
service record. They put me in a holding company on Saipan for two months
after I got out of the hospital. I finally got back to the headquarters company,
determined to find my records myself. It took a company clerk just four min¬
utes to find them, but the last entry was when I left the states. I had been
overseas over two years and been in three operations. Every operation was a
certain number of points — every citation, every wound, every Purple Heart
was a certain number of points. I was really upset!
And here comes a cocky master sergeant, with all the piping and the big
chevrons on his shoulder, trying to call me a private. I offered to knock the
Christ out of this guy. I said, “Well, it doesn’t take a goddamn robot or a nuclear
. . . and I’m Wondering What John Wayne Would Do.”
scientist to figure out that you got two and a half years that aren’t on the damn
record. What about those?” A lieutenant hears and says he’ll take care of this.
When we added everything up, I definitely had enough points to get out of the
service and go home.
My mother asked some people over for dinner to welcome the returning
hero, and she was trying to set me up with a date. God, I haven’t seen anything
except nurses and some WACs and some Red Cross girls for all this time, and
most of those were off limits. I don’t even know what it’s like to say hello to
anyone that’s not in uniform, and here I am sitting next to a pretty young girl
and her family. They’re all looking at me, and I’m trying to be whatever... and
I can’t. They’re all trying to be kind and don’t want to say anything to bring
back memories, and memories are ail I got. They’re talking about, “Isn’t it nice
to have rationing over? Boy, now we can get a loaf of bread. Now we can get
gasoline.” And I’m thinking, “Yes, you really had it tough. Christ, guys were
killed trying to get gasoline for vehicles.” [laughter]
We really have nothing in common to talk about. I very politely say, “Will
you please pass the fucking butter?” Ooh! My mother looked at me. Everybody
looked at me. I must have turned all of these colors, and my mother said,
“What has the Army done to my boy?”
I apologized immediately. “Well, I’m sorry. I’ve been kind of away from civi¬
lized talking.” [laughter]
That night my mother put me in a nice bed, and the next morning I’m
sleeping on the floor, with just a blanket over me. “What’s the matter? Did you
fall out of bed?” she says. God, over there you had a cot or you slept on the
ground or in a hole. You had a poncho on and covered up with that, and that
was it. (In Okinawa, it was cold, and we got a delivery of Army blankets, those
big, old, olive green, thick wool blankets. They were great.)
I said, “Mom, I can’t sleep on that. Please understand. I’ll get used to it, but
if I do things like this don’t get upset, because it’s going to take me a minute to
get used to what’s here. So you got to remember, I haven’t had any of this.” I
had a good heart-to-heart talk with her.
I had also changed from a ‘ra ra college kid — football playing, athlete type,
Joe college — by 180 degrees. If you’d go to shake my hand, I looked to see
what you had in your hand first. Once the woman who later became my mother-
in-law reached out to touch me, and I grabbed her hand and flipped her. Just a
gut, quick reaction. That was the way I was; I wouldn’t take nothing from
I got married very quickly, which was one of the downfalls of not having had
any companionship all those years. I was starved to be with younger people or
to be with people that were partying or just going to the beach or whatever.
Instead of going back to Washington State, I enrolled at the University of Ne¬
vada on the GI Bill. I had wanted to become a coach, but now I didn’t think
that I could stand some smart-assed kid mouthing off to me — that’s how
much I had changed. I felt I might hurt some kid, because I wasn’t going to take
it. . . so I switched to journalism.
Evans was awarded a degree in journalism from the University of Nevada in 1948.
He was the editor of the Sagebrush, 1947-48, and the city editor of the Elko Free
Press from 1948 to 1959. Evans retiredfrom his advertising firm. Gene Evans and
Associates, in 1986.
“I Stood Up, and a Sniper Picked Me Off.”
John C. Lancaster, Jr.
Jack Lancaster was born in Reno on Febru¬
ary 2, 1918. He worked from grammar school
through high school delivering newspapers,
and graduated from Reno High School in
1936. On the day Pearl Harbor was bombed,
he was skiing with his buddies:
T WO OF US had already been drafted, and when the Japanese bombed Pearl
Harbor the rest of us were anxious and ready to go. I soon was drafted and
got on a troop train here in Reno with a friend, Les Gray, and went out to Fort
Douglas, Utah, to be inducted on January 20, 1942.
After basic training I decided this was going to be a long war, and I wanted to
better myself by going to infantry officers school at Fort Benning, Georgia.
During training our drill instructors took us from class to class, and we never
just marched; we always went double-time. Everybody had to be in step. If one
man went up when the others were coming down, we all went over to the
parade ground and everybody duck-walked until we could duck-walk in step.
We got to the point where nobody was ever out of step, and those duck-walks
helped put my legs in real good shape. This would work to my advantage in my
next assignment — the 10th Mountain Division.
In the 1930s Warren Hart, Keston Ramsey and I had learned to ski up on
Mount Rose by reading a book that showed how to do a snowplow, herring¬
bone, sidestep and kick-turn, and then we started off down the hill. To stop, we
would just grab a tree branch, hold on and go under it. We were helped by
more accomplished skiers, like Jim Scrugham and Ted Patrick, who both worked
for Bell of Nevada.
John C. Lancaster, Jr.
We used the old hickory skis, and the rest of our equipment was equally
primitive — nothing compared to what they have today. I can remember the
first rope tow was just a motor down below and a big wheel about halfway up
the side of the hill where Sky Tavern is now located. We also used to ski on
Grass Lake and down at Galena Creek where they had a ski tow. As we pro¬
gressed, we went further up the hill, then skied down to where the Christmas
Tree Inn is now located. The road used to come back around through there,
and it was a lot more narrow than it is now. When we came down the trail
through the trees, we used to jump that road and go down the fire break. People
still don’t believe that we used to ski from the top of Mount Rose Highway ail
the way down through Galena Creek and all the way to Highway 395.
After graduating from officer’s school in January of 1943,1 volunteered for
the 10th Mountain Division ski troops and went for training at Camp Hale,
Colorado. As I was leaving Ft. Benning, I saw one of my friends, Pat Mooney,
who had gone to school with me in Reno and had also been accepted into
infantry school. After I was at Camp Hale about three months, Pat Mooney
arrived and we became roommates. I went on into Company B, 85th Moun¬
tain Infantry, First Battalion, and Pat went into the Second Battalion. I became
the executive officer of Company B, and was directly responsible for adminis¬
tration — seeing that all the supplies were ordered and distributed properly
through the chain of command.
At Camp Hale, we skied in company strength with four platoons. We began
by training the troops in special conditioning exercises for the legs, arms and
shoulders. Then, on a slope called Carroll Summit, we taught them how to
walk on skis, how to herringbone and sidestep up the hill, and how to kick-turn
to change direction. Then we started them downhill with a snowplow and gradu¬
ally worked into more advanced skiing. We all carried our seven-foot hickory
skis, a pair of ski poles, a rifle, and ammunition. You also carried a pack with all
your own equipment and food for yourself, and every pair of men had a moun¬
tain stove that was used to boil water and cook during field maneuvers.
Part of our job was to test equipment in deep snow and extreme cold. We
had different types of clothing, like parkas, insulated gloves and a shoe pack,
which was used instead of the combat boot. A face mask was used for skiing
downhill to keep the cold air from grazing your face. Our sleeping bags were
what they call a mummy bag. On the inside, it goes around your shoulders and
all the way down your back, and it zips up on the inside. Then they had what
they called an outer bag; it had a zipper from one corner all the way around, so
“I Stood Up, and a Sniper Picked Me Off.”
you could enclose it completely on three sides. These were all down bags, and
you could roll both bags up into a small roll about eight to ten inches in diam¬
eter. We also had an insulating pad that kept you off the snow. At night you
would slide the mummy bag inside the outer bag, climb in and get yourself
settled down with all your equipment, then zip the outer bag all the way to
where you wanted it so you could still get some air. Then you would zip the
mummy bag up until you were comfortable, and you could turn on the inside
with the mummy bag around you all the time and stay warm. That’s the kind of
thing that would save your life.
You took all your equipment to bed with you — your rifle, your shoes. You
always had three pairs of socks; you wore one pair, and the others were always
drying out. At night, you put them on the inside of your sleeping bag, next to
your body, and they would dry out; so you always put on dry socks every
morning, whether they were clean or not.
A rucksacks a complex piece of equipment. It has a frame and a pretty good-
sized bag with additional pockets all the way around to put equipment in.
Rucksacks had the strap across the front of them, which we snugged up to keep
it from sliding around and swaying and causing you to lose your balance on
skis. The straps on your shoulders were tightened down a little, too. The ruck¬
sack itself probably weighs about eight pounds, empty. The down sleeping bags
were pretty light and they were carried inside the rucksack with all your extra
clothing and food. We carried the insulated sleeping pad strapped underneath
our rucksacks, a small stove, and then the canteen cup, mess kit, and whatnot.
On certain patrols you could make hot chocolate from the very dense bar of
chocolate in K-rations. A K-ration was one meal, and we usually carried two for
each day out in the field. You had cheese and bacon and crackers and cigarettes
in a package about eight inches long. We carried seventy to eighty pounds of
equipment with us.
Your ability to manage being out in the cold for five days was based on
cooperation and caution. You had be very careful. Everybody watched out for
everybody else, and the only time that rank came into play was during decision
making. We all went along, no matter whether you were an officer or a noncom
or an enlisted man.
After some hot weather training at Camp Swift, Texas, just outside of Austin,
we were sent to Europe in January of 1945 and went into combat just outside
the walled city of Lucca, Italy. We established quite a reputation for ourselves
John C. Lancaster, Jr.
over there by breaking through the Germans’ Gothic Line, which had stale¬
mated our forces for quite a while. From there we moved pretty fast all the way
through the Po Valley, past the Po River and up into northern Italy. There I was
wounded on the fifth day of a reconnaissance patrol.
On patrols we usually found what we wanted to find — where troop concen¬
trations, artillery formations and positions were. On a map we would do coor¬
dinates and radio the particular position back to headquarters, and they would
give it to our artillery. We would move in the daytime with everybody dis¬
persed, but keeping in contact with one another — you moved a certain dis¬
tance or a certain period of time, then you gathered together again. You have to
be constantly alert, and you become very attuned to noises, especially some¬
thing that’s out of the ordinary. When I would raise one hand, everybody would
freeze in place or get down out of sight. At night we would put out our perim¬
eter, and then we didn’t move very far. We couldn’t build fires or have illumina¬
tion of any kind, and all the food was eaten cold — there was no coffee for
We were coming back from behind enemy lines and were resting on a
mountainside, when for some unknown reason I stood up, and a sniper picked
me off. I was the commander of thirteen men on that patrol, and I’m sure that’s
what the sniper was looking for — someone in authority. He aimed just a little
too low, and I was shot in the leg. The aid man bound me up pretty well, and I
walked quite a ways. With the help of the troops, we got back. At the battalion
aid station they dressed my wound and then sent me back to the regimental
hospital for about six weeks. The hospital was still a combat zone.
In April, I was still with the division and regimental headquarters, because I
wasn’t quite fit to get back into line duty. We had gotten stalled on the west side
of Lake Garda — the Germans had a battery of 88mm cannons, a very wicked
weapon, centered on the mouth of a tunnel where we had to exit to go north.
They held us for almost a week until we got troops over the hill and back
around to where they could knock out that battery.
While we were on the west side of Lake Garda, we heard that Mussolini was
on the other side in his villa. I took a patrol across the lake in what we called a
Duck — those big, amphibious trucks that could only go through water very
slowly, about two knots an hour. Once on the other side, we scattered out and
went into the villa, only to find we were just four hours behind Mussolini and
his girlfriend. When I radioed headquarters to tell them, they said, “Well, don’t
worry about it. The partisans already have him.” That’s when they caught up
“I Stood Up, and a Sniper Picked Me Off.
with him at the north end of Lake Garda, and strung him up.
In Mussolini’s villa, I found some of those gold filigree emblems that he wore
on his cap, and I brought back a couple as souvenirs. Some of those villas were
just absolutely gorgeous — very high class and well kept, and not damaged by
the war. We were tromping through them with our muddy boots and looking
around like tourists on a vacation. The bedrooms were later used as a barracks
for officers with three and four officers to a bedroom.
After Germany surrendered we remained in Italy. Then in the summer the
10th Mountain Division received orders to go back to the United States for
reorganization, regrouping, and retraining, to join a Marine division for an
amphibious assault on the main island of Japan. That really scared me. I thought,
“I don’t know whether I’m going to get by again or not.” We boarded the USS
Marine Fox , and we were off the Azores Islands when it came over the ship’s
radio that they had dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Nobody
could believe that there was anything like that and that it could do so much
devastation. Two or three days later, they dropped the next bomb on Nagasaki
and it was over. The 10th Mountain wouldn’t be needed.
I got out in November of 1945. Overseas, we’d heard about all these jobs in
the States that were paying pretty money, but it was a rude awakening when
you got back. These jobs were not there, not even the ones we had left. When
we went into the service, our jobs were supposed to be guaranteed when we got
out, but that was not the case. About three months after my discharge, I just up
and left Sacramento, where my wife was, because it was not... not good at all.
I borrowed twenty dollars to get back to Reno where I lived with my parents for
a while. One day I found myself down at the Riverside Hotel in the bar quietly
having a drink, and all of a sudden it just hit me: “What in the world are you
doing here all by yourself having a drink when there’s no reason? Just get your
act together and get out of here and do something with your life.”
I took myself into a corner and talked to myself and got myself organized.
That’s when I decided to get a job and went to work for Johnson Chevrolet.
Marsh Johnson offered me the job if I would go under the GI Bill and take a
correspondence course. I studied accounting for three years and graduated, and
I’m proud of myself — I got straight As all the way through.
Returning to civilian life, one of things that bothered me was loud noises.
For quite a while I’d practically jump right out of my skin. In fact, I had a little
set-to with the service manager at Johnson Chevrolet one time. I had gone
John C. Lancaster, Jr.
down to the body shop on East Fourth Street, and somebody set off an air
hammer next to me. It sounded just like a .50 caliber going off right in my ear.
I tried to dig my way through the floor, and the service manager, Gene Ford,
decided that was real funny. I was so angry that I chased him clear across the
body shop, until I came to my senses — knocking him on his ass was not going
to solve anything! [laughter]
In the military, you’re used to telling somebody to jump, and they ask, “How
far?” You’re used to having somebody answer you and say, “Yes, sir!” But in
civilian life it didn’t work that way. You had to be a little more diplomatic. That
was one of the things that I found rather difficult: You tell somebody to do
something, and they might do it, and they might not.
After the war Jack Lancaster worked as an accountant for the Riverside Hotel. Later
he worked for R. E. Krummer as manager for the Cavalier Motor Lodge and Lancer
Restaurant, and often checked on Krummer.s properties in Los Angeles. Before he
retired, he managed Food Products, a company that is part of Rebecca Farms of
“Either Kill or Be Killed”
Bill Farr was bom in Salt Lake City, Utah
on September 16, 1923■ By the time he was
six years old the stock market had crashed,
his father was unemployed, and Farr was sell¬
ing newspapers andfishing-worms to help his
family survive. When his father found a job
in Sparks, Nevada, Bill stayed in Utah with
his grandfather and sorted soda bottles. Two
years later he joined his family in Sparks,
where he ran his own shoe shine business and
played sports for Sparks High School. Before
finishing high school he joined the U.S. Army:
M y first day at Ft. Douglas, Utah, was
traumatic. They put us in a bar¬
racks and got us up very early, and we stood in line with nothing on but our
shorts. Then they ran us through the traditional preliminaries: “What is your
size? Here’s a pair of pants; here’s some underwear; here’s a uniform and a hat.”
I stacked up piles of stuff and carried it back to my dormitory, where there was
a steel bed with a mattress and a footlocker.
Next — still in our shorts — outside we went, stood in line, and had all the
kinds of physical examinations that anybody wanted to effect. Some things are
not appropriate for me to tell here. It was very invasive. You’re naked, while
standing in line with everybody. You see an eye doctor, an ear doctor, a nose
doctor and a dentist, and receive all the immunizations. I had a couple of cavi¬
ties, but instead of filling them, they just pulled my teeth out. That’s the most
expeditious way when you’re running soldiers through.
After two weeks we were given the right to go home. My friend Leo and I
went back to Sparks. Our uniforms were a little big, because they weren’t tai¬
lored yet, but we walked up and down the streets of Sparks and met some of our
old girlfriends, very proud to say, “We’re in the Army!”
Francis William Farr
Francis William Farr
From Fort Douglas we were shipped to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for basic
training. It was as different from our introductory training as day and night.
We were introduced to Tech Sergeant Meadows. He was the toughest, meanest,
most foul-mouthed person I had ever met. I had never heard those kinds of
words — telling you to “F-this” and “F-that,” and telling us: “Come on you
dog faces; line up!” But if this is what it took, I wanted to become like him. He
wasn’t going to wear me down.
I had more skills than some of the others. I had hunted and been a Boy
Scout, and could shoot and use a compass, so the sergeant called out Leo and
me to be squad leaders. We learned to handle arms, what a rifle was — and it
was not a gun! It was a “piece.” And you had better know every damn piece of
this “piece” so that you can clean it and take care of it. It was very regimented.
Tough, but meaningful later.
At the time we thought, “Why are you doing this? I can take this apart, put
it together and clean it. Right?”
“But it’s not clean!”
“Well, I think it’s clean!”
“It’s not clean!”
Later it paid off. We learned to protect each other. We learned various forma¬
tions. We learned to shoot a rifle. We learned to throw grenades. We learned to
run obstacle courses. We learned competitiveness. If you run that obstacle course
and beat everyone else, you got a weekend pass; otherwise, you have to stay in
Basic training was really tough, physically and mentally both. We trained
from 5:45 a.m. to 8:00 at night with breaks for dinner and supper, and every
hour we got a ten minute break. Since I didn’t smoke, during breaks they gave
me extra things to do while the other guys had a cigarette. I decided to smoke!
After the first six week we had very little time off. We were in classrooms all
day learning about the enemy — what they were, what they looked like, what
they smelled like. We learned to identify their equipment, and then the next
day we would go out on the range and listen to their weapons firing and listen
to our weapons so we could detect the difference. We learned the art of self
defense and hand-to-hand combat. We were told that the Germans were big
and strong and totally regimented, so you could parry their weapons to the left
and give them a butt stroke or a slash. For the Japanese, however, you had to
learn to use your hands and your knife — it was more physical one-on-one
kind of confrontations.
“Either Kill or Be Killed”
I didn’t think I would have any problem whatsoever with killing, but I was
not really shooting or being shot at. I was playing a game of war. We would
choose sides, red and blue, and it was a challenge for me to beat the other team
— to go beyond what we were taught and use our own initiative. One time I
walked maybe six, seven kilometers out of the way to be able to get back to the
headquarters of the red team and capture them while crawling through the
mud. We had a motto: “You kill or be killed.” That was pretty plain, but it was
We’d get off on weekends and we could do anything we wanted, but I had
never been exposed to any kind of boozing or smoking or girls. In fact, the
military training about girls made you afraid to touch one, because they showed
you what syphilis, gonorrhea, and all those things did to people. They issued
condoms to all soldiers; but we were scared, even though our hormones were
running wild. I thought, “I would like to kiss a girl, because this might be the
last girl I’ll ever meet in my life or ever see.” I hadn’t even held a girl yet. I met
one girl and we dated a couple of times, held hands, and kissed ... but I didn’t
know anything about sex. I was trying to encourage it, but scared to death
because of these films, and I certainly didn’t want to hurt a girl; I had learned to
On graduation day, because we had done such a good job in our training, the
three of us from Sparks were selected to remain as training cadre for the new
recruits. It broke our hearts, because we had wanted to go into combat. But
now I become Tech Sergeant Meadows! I stood up in front, and I saluted my
platoon every morning and had them count off “Dress right, dress! Attention!
Report!” That’s pretty good. Now I’m telling these people what to do rather
than someone telling me. Several people from the Citadel, V.M.I., and Georgia
Tech came to McClellan. They had had three years of college and were very
well educated, but here I am — a kid who dropped out of high school with a
foul mouth, who no longer uses proper English and has become a tough drill
sergeant — telling these people what to do, when to do it, how to do it, where
to do it, and why to do it.
One day Jack Streeter came into camp and was assigned to a hut right next to
mine. He was older than I was, but he was from my hometown, and I was
calling him out, standing him at attention, turning him right and left. He said,
“They shipped me down here for training, and I don’t need any so-and-so train¬
ing. I want to get the hell out of here.” One day he got very angry and walked
into one of the huts across the parade ground and talked to the commanding
Francis William Farr
officer, challenging him to fisticuffs if he did not ship him out of there. Within
days he was assigned to the 1st Division, which was invading North Africa.
I continued there for a month or two, but I figured I had reached my apex —
the peak of my training. I was as tough and as strong as I could be. I wanted to
go into combat. On July 1st, I finally went up to the commanding officer and
asked them if they would ship me out.
We sailed for five days on the S.S. Manhattan , crowded in with our packs
and our clothing and our shoes and our rifles and our bandoliers, which held
ammunition. Combat ready. The trip was no pleasure cruise. We were crowded
and seasick and could only be on deck for a couple hours each day. As we
unloaded in Liverpool, England, these little kids were screaming because they
were so hungry, so we were throwing our candy bars and our rations down to
them. They’d dive in the water, and boy, they were good swimmers. Pretty soon
we started throwing money, too. We thought we could feed them. I had re¬
ceived some of the best food during training, and they weren’t getting anything.
I flashed back to the days during the Depression when I stood in line with my
grandfather, who was crippled, to receive moldy cheese and grapefruit and crack¬
ers. I remembered what it was like to be hungry.
The invasion had already started, and I was assigned to a replacement depot
outside of Liverpool. Every day we were trained, then sat around and waited,
and trained and sat around and waited. One day they came in and called our
names and we loaded up on trucks. We went back to the wharf and were put on
a carrier. I was assigned to the 28th Infantry Division. I was replacing a platoon
leader who had been lost, so I was promoted right there on the spot to staff
We landed on Omaha Beach on the 16th of July, and everything was moving
off the beach, up over into the flatlands and the hedgerows. As I hit the beach,
downed planes were still smoking from the original invasion weeks before, and
I saw the wrecked vehicles and all the debris. The 28th had moved forward
seven or eight kilometers from the beach, and I set out to join them. I was
carrying this seventy-pound pack, climbing up the cliffs our soldiers had fought
for. When I got to the top I said, “I can’t carry all this crap and still be effective.”
So I took off my pack and threw everything away. I kept only my shelter half,
four grenades, my rifle, my first aid pack, my water, my gun belt, and two
bandoliers of ammunition.
“Either Kill or Be Killed’
That evening I made it to my division. It was dark and spooky and scary, and
there was a certain smell that I had never smelled before . . . diesel fuel and
death. And I had seen my first dead soldiers, Germans half buried, still on the
ground. We were dug in, and I didn’t know where . . . didn’t know north,
south, east, or west. Off in the distance we could hear shelling and shooting,
but we weren’t really involved with it right there. I now had eleven men that I
was responsible for, so I went from hole to hole to hole and introduced myself.
I felt a little bit out of place, because they all had a 28th Infantry Division
insignia on their uniforms, which the Germans called the “The Bloody Bucket.”
I had my riflemen, my scouts, and my BAR man, who had the Browning
Automatic Rifle that shoots very rapidly. He carries many clips of ammunition
and is a person you rely on to give you rapid fire, to be able to cover you and
everyone else as you engage the enemy. Each squad had some rapid firepower,
plus their own weapons, which mostly were all M-l’s — an eight-round rifle
that you shove ammunition into while it shoots semi-automatically, and the
clip flies out. For survival, each of us was issued what we called an “asshole
compass” — a thumbnail compass, very small — and an overlay of France up
through Paris on silk. I put that in the fly in my trousers, so if I was captured
and they were frisking me, they wouldn’t find it.
The next morning, all I could see were hedgerows and flat land. There was all
kinds of activity, but still we had not engaged in any combat. We were ordered
to advance forward, but the Germans had machine guns zeroed in at the exact
height of these hedgerows. As we crawled over, they just shot the shit out of us!
I’d never seen paratroopers shot and hanging from their parachutes in the trees.
This wasn’t what I was trained for. I was trained in open fields in Alabama, and
I’d never seen a hedgerow in my life! I was scared to death! But I knew I had a
duty to perform: either kill or be killed.
We couldn’t go forward, so we held a little conference and decided that rather
than go over, we’d start digging. Once we had a little embrasure through the
hedgerow, we could start firing and reduce their fire. Well, several days went by,
and we didn’t progress very well. Finally, we brought up some TDs — tank
destroyers — to fire at the Germans, because they had some huge 88s sitting
over there, and they were in position to just blow us out! Soon after, our tanks
arrived with huge teeth on the front of them for ripping through hedgerows. I
was assigned to protect one of these as it cut big swaths through the hedgerows
so we could go through. After that we advanced quite rapidly from July until
Francis William Farr
While fighting, we heard a rumor that there was going to be a massive airstrike
on St. Lo. We were supposed to withdraw twelve kilometers, because it was
going to be the bombing of all bombings. Somehow the message got mixed up,
and we only withdrew six kilometers, so we were still within range of the bomb¬
ing smoke put out for the airplanes to locate and bomb the town. While my
platoon and I were eating K rations at 0600 one morning, we heard some
airplanes. They started bombing off in the distance about a mile from us. There
were thousands of them, and it went on until 1300, one right after another. In
the end, we found out that 5,000 airplanes flew that day. It was terrible. We laid
there with the vibrations of bombs for seven hours. Unbelievable! Just massive
fire! Our ears were ringing — it was a horrible noise! Two or three days later we
found out that General McNair and his people were within the perimeter of
the smoke, and he was killed by our own bombs. A lot of our people were killed
by our own bombing.
When we went through St. Lo, we marched down some of the dirtiest, dusti¬
est streets I’ve ever seen. There were human bodies everywhere, German sol¬
diers, and the buildings were a mess. I didn’t see any life whatsoever. And now
I knew that we were at war. So far I had not shot anyone, although I had fired
my weapon in the hedgerows. The combat divisions that had experience in
North Africa were up front, and we were being held in reserve.
On the morning we were going to engage the enemy for the first time, I saw
this huge headquarters off in the distance with big German flags, and Germans
all over the area. You could hear them making all kinds of noises and shouting,
because they had not seen us yet. When we came out of the forest, we jumped
into some of these hedgerows and got behind them. As we attacked, an am¬
phibious jeep was going right across in front of us. We fired on it and killed
them. Then we started firing on the headquarters, and people came running
out. We threw grenades into the building. Then we went inside.
I went up on the second floor and got this flag that I had focused on during
the fight. I wanted that flag for a souvenir. I also saw a rifle with a beautiful
scope on it, and I wanted that, so I broke it off and wrapped it in this flag and
put it in my shirt. That’s when I was told that if you carry any German para¬
phernalia whatsoever, and are captured, they will cut off your penis and your
private parts and shove them in your mouth! So we were pretty scared. But I
still thought “Hey, if I survive, I’ve got it! If I don’t survive, I won’t know, and
they’re not going to capture me!” I mean, I had that kind of confidence. Nobody
was going to capture me.
Either Kill or Be Killed'
We marched for another day and a half without engaging any enemy. Every
night we would change our code messages so that we could identify who the
enemy was and who they were not. For example, one night it would be “Babe
Ruth.” You would challenge somebody and say, “Halt, Babe!” and if they said,
“Ruth,” we’d let them come in. The next day you’d change that same word to
Chicago, Illinois; the next day to Frank Sinatra. You remembered that password
from day to day, because it was your life.
One night after we dug in, a tank driver walked into our positions with two
guys. For some reason or other, we were being very lax, so we didn’t fire on him.
He started talking to us: “Hey, I got a tank down here, and it’s in real serious
trouble, and the Germans are on the other side. Would you guys come down
and help me?” He had on these coveralls and a tank helmet, and he looked like
an American tank guy; he talked like an American tank guy. I said, “Sure, we’ll
move on down there and take a look.”
We started down this little ravine. I took my BAJR. man with me; I took the
squad rather than the whole platoon. It’s twilight, and just as we leveled out,
this guy yelled something. I’ll never forget this as long as I live. Two German
machine guns opened up on us. We hit the ground. Unfortunately, some of my
guys were hit. They had us pinned down. We could not move, so I started
crawling. We’d learned to stay as low as you can and just inch forward. The first
thing you do when you hit the ground is push up a little dirt with the butt of
There was a lull, just for a second. Then CLICK! Like metal hitting metal!
The machine gun stopped, and my BAR man and I jumped up, and he started
firing the BA_R while I jumped in this hole with these guys — Germans. I
grabbed one guy, and he throws his hand up, “Oh, me Polak. Me Polak. Don’t
shoot!” I turned the son of a bitch over and poked him in the back and headed
back for our lines, and told my BAR man, “Come on, cover us. We’re moving
out of here. We’ve been trapped.”
We started back, and I’m pushing this German in front of me. I’m hitting
him in the back as hard as I can, “You son of a bitch!” I’m using the English
language, and he knew what I was saying. I know he can communicate. We got
to the hedgerow, and I literally picked this guy up and threw him over. I was
later informed that he and his tank person were able to tell our interrogators
where several other machine gun embrasures were. We knocked them out with
artillery, and moved forward for two or three days then without resistance.
From there we went to Arlon, Belgium, where Germany, Luxembourg and
Francis William Farr
Belgium come together. We were ready to break into Germany. My division
and my platoon and my squad were the very first troops to take and hold ground
in Germany. We went through to the Siegfried Line, and when we got up on
the side of the hill, we heard all this noise and saw divisions of Germans retreat¬
ing. We let them retreat. We had soldiers on each side, but we were out-manned.
The next morning, we moved in. It’s now September. Hitler had these huge
bunkers built out of concrete with embrasures for guns to keep people from
invading Germany. We moved towards them, very cautiously, and all of a sud¬
den we would see this area where they had cut the grass. The embrasures were
well camouflaged, but in order for the Germans to be able to look out at us,
they had to clear a little of the grass. We knew where they were because we
could figure . . . well, if there’s one here, there’s one there protecting this one,
and so on.
For twenty-eight kilometers we walked and walked and walked, and found
nobody in them, so we were able to get inside and see what they were like. Then
on one hill we got shot at, and we backed down. That night our squad was
ordered out on reconnaissance to see how many Germans were in each bunker
on this hill. We took some satchel charges, which is a sack of dynamite, and
pole charges, which we made ourselves with dynamite on the end of a pole. The
point was to throw several satchel charges into the embrasure, put the pole
charge in and pull the pin. Within ten to fifteen seconds, it will blow up.
We had just started crawling on our bellies when we heard this German say,
“Hands up, you’re my prisoner!” In the middle of the night, a German accent
telling us to put up our hands — I was chilled. It scared the hell out of me. Well
each one of us, just from instinct, pulled a grenade out and threw it into the
embrasure. What an explosion that was! Then one of the kids threw in the pole
charges and pulled the pin, and it blew that particular bunker up pretty good.
I said, “Let’s withdraw. These things are hot.” When we turned around, all
the other embrasures started firing, and somebody threw a couple of German
grenades. That’s where my other man, Ted, was hit. He screamed terribly after
the grenade went off and says, “I’m hit! I’m hit!” So we crawled back and brought
him back to our side of the line. I said, “Oh, hell Ted, you’re not hit bad. You’ve
just got some shrapnel in your butt.”
He says, “My stomach hurts terribly.” Well, what had happened was that the
shrapnel had gone through and into his innards. We didn’t know that while we
were dressing his butt. When he went back to the first aid station, we weren’t
sure whether he was dead or alive, but he passed on. That was one of the first
casualties in my squad.
“Either Kill or Be Killed”
The next morning they brought forward our tank destroyers, and my squad
was assigned to protect one. We got maybe two, three blocks, when the Ger¬
mans fired, and right off, eight of our tanks were burning rapidly in front of us.
I’m walking and I hear an incoming round and I’m hit in my right leg. I thought,
“It didn’t hit me, but that noise was awful fast and close. Funny.” Walking bare¬
legged through wheat, that’s what it felt like ... a piece of straw or something
sticking on my leg. I reached down and found a piece of metal. When I picked
it out, it burned my hand — it was very hot — and I saw blood coming out of
my leg. I ordered our people to withdraw back to our hole and told the captain
I’d been hit. I cut my leggings off — we didn’t have combat boots — and put a
bandage around my leg. They took me back to the aid station, fed me a good
meal, gave me a shower, and dressed my leg. I stayed there overnight, got to
write a letter. “Boy, I am Zl’d (Zone of Interiored). I’m going home. I got a
million dollar wound.” I was thrilled, and that’s what I told everybody.
Next morning they called my name. After sleeping on a cot all night, they
fed me breakfast, gave me a rifle, gave me a Purple Heart, put me in the truck,
and sent me back up to my outfit. I thought, “Jesus. They’re going to wait until
you get your whole head blown off.” I was disappointed — I wanted to go
home so bad, but I accepted it. I got out of the truck and limped back up that
hill, and got back in the same damn hole I had gotten out of. And then it started
to rain. This was September 16, 1944, but I never realized it was my birthday
until after the war.
The next morning we were ordered to withdraw. We were being pulled out
and the 8th Division was relieving us. We were sent to LaChampe, France, to
be part of the liberation forces. After riding all night in trucks, they billeted us
in a park and ordered us to put our stripes back on our uniforms. (In combat,
we had taken them offbecause the Germans would attempt to capture and take
the officers and noncoms.) We were ordered to clean ourselves up, to look like
soldiers — you’re back in the Army; you’re no longer these combat people. We
had to prepare to parade through Paris to show that the Americans are out¬
standing and that we’re supporting the Free French.
What a relief. We got all the water we wanted in order to shower, shave in
our helmets, and get cleaned up. We had a change of clothes and underwear
and socks. And I got my first pair of combat boots with the little leather tops.
After a good breakfast, we lined up about thirty abreast and started marching
with the band playing. As we came under the Arc d’Triomphe in Paris, I had no
idea of the significance, and that our picture would be in Life magazine. Gen¬
eral de Gaulle, Eisenhower, and General Bradley were on a grandstand saluting
Francis William Farr
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us. We all did “eyes left” as we went by, until the officers dropped their salute.
Afterwards, the girls and the people were hugging and kissing and throwing
loaves of bread. We each got a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. It was almost
like the war was over.
That night we were moved to the Bastille, a huge prison area where we as¬
sembled while waiting for our trucks. A group of Free French people were
bringing in men and women, and the men were on their hands and knees,
pleading. One Frenchman took a rifle and just swung it and hit one of them in
the head something vicious — the man had been collaborating with the Ger¬
mans. In this one room, there were ten women and four or five babies. I stood
in a window about three feet away and watched as they stripped the women
naked. They cut off all their hair with straight razors, so they were bleeding,
and then they painted swastikas all over their bodies ... their breasts and their
backs. They handed their kids back to them and threw them into the streets.
The French people were spitting on them and cursing these women and throw¬
ing urine on them.
Later, after I returned home, I realized that that one particular incident stayed
with me more than any of the others, because they were dealing with women
Either Kill or Be Killed
and children. We couldn’t interfere to protect them. It’s all right to kill or be
killed, but I don’t believe in killing people who can’t fight back. They should
have been considered prisoners of war. These people were pleading for their
lives, and for the Free French to treat them so badly was contrary to what a
good American soldier was trained to do.
From there we were sent to the Huertgen Forest, where the 8th Division was
taking a beating and withdrawing . . . and we had the unfortunate experience
of seeing massive death. There were soldiers still sitting in their holes where a
tree burst — which is an artillery shell that hits the tree limbs — had caused the
shrapnel to come straight down, gone through their helmets and killed the men
before they had a chance to cover their holes. We were to dig in next to them.
The area was strong with smells of human death.
I was really scared. I knew I still had the strength and our men had the
strength, but we didn’t know what our objective was now. Were we going to
defend, were we going to attack, or what? This environment was unlike what
we had fought in before. You had no clear embrasures and no clear shooting,
except the Germans had cut fire breaks in the forest and had machine guns
trained on these fire breaks. If an American soldier ran across, he would be cut
We had been told that the Germans had fixed positions, so we circled those
areas and attacked. The Germans were caught in their own bind, sitting there
shooting straight down the fire breaks. After that encounter, we were able to
move two or three kilometers away from the area where the smells were so bad.
This was around November 4th, and the next morning they counterattacked.
We could see them moving in front of us, and we could hear them yelling, and
we could smell them. After you lived 108 days in the wilderness, you could
smell the Germans. I always called it a gray bread smell: Their defecation was
different than ours. Their body odors were different than ours. Their death was
We were being shelled, and the trees above were causing tree bursts and
limbs were falling. Smoke was all over the forest, and there was a lot of shoot¬
ing. All of a sudden one of my men screamed out “I’m hit!” I crawled out to get
to his hole and reached back to take my first aid packet out, when a tree burst
hit right over the top of me ... I remember a loud, loudbmsx. and a severe pain
in my back.
I started walking with help, but I couldn’t straighten up ... . The pain was
so severe. Somewhere along the way, we passed a dead cow that was all bloated.
The smell made me so sick, I couldn’t continue. They put me on a stretcher and
Francis William Farr
took me to the aid station, where I went to sleep. When I woke up, I thought I
was still in Germany, but I was in England in the 104th General Hospital. I
can’t recall how I got to England. They had put me in a cast from my hips to
under my chest for a few days, and I was in terrible pain.
This time I was Zl’d, but then the Germans broke through at the Battle of
the Bulge, and they needed trainers to get more men into combat fast. The cast
was off and I was walking — with numbness in my legs, but walking — when
I was ordered to Tidworth, England to train Air Force support troops (mechan¬
ics and supply people) for combat. I was determined that this injury was not
going to hold me back from doing anything I wanted to do. I was in severe
pain, but I was able to get up in the morning, and it was insignificant compared
to what I’d seen.
While I was there, the war ended in Europe. I went to London that night,
where huge crowds were tearing off the wood that had protected the statues and
monuments from German bombs, and they were building fires right in the
heart of London. We were being kissed and loved and petted and squeezed and
hugged. You couldn’t move for the thousands and thousands of people right in
the heart of London.
Now we could have a thirty day furlough and go home to the United States
and our families. After that, I would be assigned to go to the Pacific for the
invasion of Japan. But I knew that once I got to the United States, I could walk
to Sparks. I was going to tell the commanders that I wasn’t capable of going
back again. I just couldn’t possibly function. You could call me a Section Eight,
do whatever you want, but nobody would ever get me to go into combat again.
When I arrived in Sparks the latter part of July, my father took me to the bar
and said, “This is my son. He just got home from combat.” He was so proud,
and all the guys there were patting me on the back: “Welcome home Bill. You’re
a soldier. You’ve got to have a drink. You guys are tough.”
They gave me a shot of whiskey. Well, I had never had a shot of whiskey
before and didn’t realize what a shot or a double shot was. I drank about six or
seven of those and was OK while I was standing there talking to these guys,
very proud. Then I started out the door, and all of a sudden I couldn’t walk very
well. In front of the library there was a little iron fence, and that’s where I got
dizzy. I fell over the fence and was upchucking, and I felt so embarrassed. Here’s
a soldier ... an American soldier who should be setting an example. I had
never been like this in my life, ever! Nor have I been since, [laughter]
Either Kill or Be Killed”
While I was home, Grace and I got married, and we spent thirty glorious
days together. When the war ended in Japan, I ran from our home at B Street
down to the casino where my wife was dealing cards and told Mr. Pick Hobson,
who later owned the Riverside, that “my wife is dealing no longer. Were going
to celebrate!” My brother, who I hadn’t seen all during the war, came home. He
was supposed to be back in the hospital in Oakland, but he went AWOL a few
days so he could be with me. He and I and my wife took off, and we had a party
in Reno. Everybody was celebrating. A patrolman pulled his motorcycle up in
front of Harrah’s Club and parked it. My wife had ridden motorcycles before,
and she got on that motorcycle and took off around the block and came back.
He was going to arrest her, but I convinced him, “Look, this is my wife. I’m a
soldier of the war.” I asked if he could forget it, and he did.
Bill Farr was Chief ofthe Sparks Fire Department for twenty-six years. He served as
a state senator from 1966 to 1970, and was a Washoe County commissioner from
1976to 1982. Farr currently serves on the board of governors for the Washoe Medi¬
“The Enemy’s Hiding Too”
Santino Oppio was born in Sparks, Nevada,
on March 6, 1919 to parents who had im¬
migratedfrom Italy. He grew up working on
the family farm, and graduated from high
school in 1936. Drafted just days before Pearl
Harbor, Oppio landed with the 3rd Infantry
Division at Casablanca on November 8,
1942. During the next nine months he saw a
lot of North Africa, but little combat. Sud¬
denly, life changed:
J ULY 10, 1943, we crossed into Sicily for our first real battle. Going in, I was
so seasick that I really didn’t care one way or the other. You don’t fight well in
that condition, [laughter] We landed at Licata, and I learned what war was like
about five minutes into it. We landed right under a German Bofors anti-aircraft
gun, and it just filled the hold of our landing craft with dead people. Each one
of those shells killed a half dozen soldiers. I was lucky that I was in a protected
Gliders carrying a regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division and a regiment of
the 102nd Airborne glided in low toward land, but nobody knew they were
coming, and our navy got hot and shot half of them down — killed our own
troops. Next day, all you could see were dead soldiers out there; never made it
to shore, just got blown out. We knew those were our own men.
Once ashore, you have to hide. You have to dig yourself a hole to make sure
you are out of the fire of your own men ... as well as those you are fighting.
Later on it was a little less of a slaughter, because people started learning fast. I
learned not to stick my head out of a hole in the ground — stay low, follow the
guy in front of you, and that’s all there is. There’s no retreating. You are afraid,
but you get to the point where you don’t really feel afraid anymore. You feel like
if you get hit, you get hit. You go numb.
From the beach, we were going right up to the top of a hill. You don’t stop.
You can crawl; you can dig a hole; but in the end you’re going to go on top of
that hill. Especially in this type of a war, you’re always moving, and the real
infantryman was out front. He never went to the rear unless he got wounded.
We were in Sicily over a month. Our job was to capture Palermo, which we
did. There weren’t too many Germans there, but enough to keep us busy. We
captured Palermo and all the area west of Palermo, clear to the sea. All we did
was fight — looked at a map and fought along the roads. We went as far as
Messina, that corridor between Italy and Sicily, but by then the Germans were
gone; the battle was over. So we moved back to Palermo for a month, back into
bivouac, because our job was done.
Then word came through that we had to join the others at Salerno, where we
were taking a beating. The German army was pushing the 36th Division and
the 45th Division back into the ocean. It was a perfect place for the Germans to
defend. They’d come down off those mountains with tanks, and they’d just run
the infantry plumb off. We didn’t have any tanks to defend us; our tanks were
still out in Sicily. We just dug in and remained there.
Italy is not easy. It snows pretty much every day during the winter, and it’s
cold. But we moved up the coast, all the way to the Volturno River. It was the
middle of January and the river was in flood. You were in mud up to your
knees. A lot of people lost their lives there — not only us, but Germans, too.
The Allied push up the peninsula stalled at Monte Cassino, which was heavily
fortified and well defended. The Germans had it very easy there — they would
fire a few rounds and then go down into the ground and sit and wait. So we
went around Monte Cassino and landed at Anzio. We were on the Anzio beach¬
head for almost six months. Couldn’t move; on the defensive all the way. One
guy in my outfit who had gone into infantry training school in Fort Benning
rejoined us on Anzio beachhead. The first day he was there, he got killed. After
the war his mother and father came from Salt Lake City to visit me, wanted to
know what I had seen. I said, “I didn’t see anything. All I knew was that he was
dead.” A lot of them died that way. We may never know.
When we broke out of the Anzio beachhead we went like crazy to Rome,
where we stayed one month. Then we pulled back to Naples and went back in
training again for the landing in southern France. By that time the war for
Germany was being fought by old men and kids. We captured a lot of them,
“The Enemy’s Hiding Too”
Men from Oppio’s unit pose before a Messerschmitt they have downed
with their rifles, while the wounded pilot is treated by medics.
because they didn’t want to fight any more. They were tired. They had lost
millions of men in Russia. The only thing they had left was for the Battle of the
That was one of the coldest winters in Europe, and a lot of people froze to
death. We were in the Colmar Pocket in mountains with snow that was waist
high. We’d go into peoples houses and say, “We’re taking over your house.
When we leave, you can have it back.” You have to do it. They knew what was
going on. They were always happy to see us — especially the kids, who would
introduce you to their parents, and that would make it easier on you. You’re the
master anyhow, and they do what you tell them to do. That’s all. This is war.
“The Enemy’s Hiding Too’
We knocked out a Messerschmitt, shot it down — that was quite an inci¬
dent, shooting an airplane down with a rifle. We also hit the pilot in the leg.
When the plane was hit, it made a circle and came back. The pilot didn’t even
put the wheels down — he belly landed.
One time I jumped in my foxhole and there was a dead German in it, but I
never killed anybody. Let’s put it this way: the enemy’s hiding, too; if you see
someone, he’s hiding and you’re hiding. The only people that actually kill are
those who .... On the bank of the Volturno River there were Germans firing
at us, but it was so pitch dark they were just firing their machine guns hoping
to hit something. I’ve heard bullets come pretty close, but I never got hit. I was
on the ground all the time. I’m looking for who’s out there and for something to
protect me. North of Nuremberg we were walking through the streets, and
from the corner of my eye I noticed movement behind us. I turned around and
there was a guy who was going to throw a grenade at us, one of those German
grenades with a handle. We captured him. He was happy too — he didn’t have
to fight any more wars.
I was in there all the way, all the way. Nobody ever told me, “Hey, your turn
to go home. Pack your bag and go.” Nobody ever came over for me.
War doesn’t make any sense. I’m fighting because some politician told me I
had to go in the Army and I had to fight — that’s all it is. The more war is
around you, the less you care. A guy gets killed, and he is just a guy; if you don’t
know him, you go on about your business. There is no connection. It’s ugly.
When I got home I forgot the war. It died, and I forgot it. Nobody listened
to me, nobody . . . they didn’t give a damn. They’re just damn glad it’s over
with, and that’s the way I feel. But it’s of value for younger people to under¬
stand what the war was all about — if people will listen, it does a lot to prevent
war. I don’t want to see any more war. I hate it.
Santino Oppio attained the rank of tech sergeant and, among other honors, re¬
ceived the Bronze Star and the French Croix De Guerre as a unit citation. After his
discharge he attended the University of Nevada for one year, and then became a
partner with his brother in the Bowlarium and Starlite bowling alleys. For twenty
years Mr. Oppio was head of the drafiing department of the Washoe County Assessor’s
Office, from which position he is retired.
“Sort of the Governor”
Grant Sawyer was bom in Twin Falls, Idaho,
in 1918. Sawyer's parents divorced in 1921,
and his father relocated to Fallon, Nevada,
where he established a medical practice. Young
Grant spent many summers in Fallon. Fol¬
lowing graduation from the University of
Nevada in 1941, he entered George Wash¬
ington Law School, and late in 1942 he en¬
listed in the Army. Nineteen forty-four found
Corporal Sawyer still stateside, a member of
the training cadre at Camp Fannin, Texas:
D ISSATISFIED WITH THE WAY things were going, I began trying to get into
Officers Candidate School. At first I couldn’t pass the eye exam; so I
memorized some charts, figuring that if I recognized the first line of the chart
they were using, I could breeze through it, no problem, [laughter] Finally I got
a chart that I knew, passed the physical at Camp Fannin, and wound up in
OCS at Camp Lee, Virginia. After about three months, I came out a second
lieutenant in the quartermaster corps.
Then it was off to the Philippines on a troop-replacement ship. A lot of the
old guys that I shipped over with were physically deficient, like myself. (By that
time they were taking people up into their early forties, I think. None of us, I
would say, was cream of the crop!) I was so blind that I was afraid I would get
into some kind of situation and lose my glasses and wouldn’t be able to see, and
that could have been a total disaster. So I carried several extra sets of glasses on
me ... in my cartridge belt, my pockets and elsewhere.
The Army didn’t care whether you were in the quartermaster corps or what,
you went where the action was, and when we landed in the Philippines I was
given command of an infantry platoon. Most of my men weren’t at all prepared
to go into combat; nevertheless, we were in a Philippine battle zone. For about
a week we bivouacked out next to a rice paddy with our guns and equipment,
and right across the paddy were the Japanese. Everywhere there were booby
traps and that sort of thing, and caves with Japanese soldiers still fighting from
them. We also met resistance and sporadic gunfire in the suburbs of Manila,
where we conducted a cleaning-up operation.
It was a great relief to me when I got lucky and got out of that situation. One
day a truck loaded with people came out from central Manila. They were there
to interview us for selection to the Philippine Civil Affairs Unit, the PCAU,
which was being formed in the headquarters group. I was one of two picked to
go to the unit, and I spent the rest of my time in the Philippines in Manila.
The Japanese had occupied the Philippines for most of the war. Now we in
the PCAU were supposed to restore civilian government and transfer its func¬
tions back to the Filipino people. We started by going out to the POW camps
around Manila, freeing the prisoners. Then I was placed in charge of an entire
district of the city; I was sort of the governor of that whole district, and I ran the
schools and did all the things that military governors were supposed to do. On
one inspection tour of a school, I found GIs lined up through the courtyard
and down the street about a block and a half. I thought, “What the hell is going
on here?” It turned out that as district commander I had been running a major
house of prostitution in the school, unbeknownst to me until I followed the
line all the way up to where the action was! I was forced to shut it down . . .
against my best judgment, [laughter]
You put in so much time on duty, and you got to go to a rest camp. Shortly
before the end of the war I was sent to one in Baguio, northern Luzon. Since I
was the only quartermaster officer there, I was put in charge of its kitchen — I
knew nothing whatsoever about any kitchen, but that’s the way things were in
those last days of World War II. Soon after I arrived the Japanese surrender was
announced, and hundreds of troops just dropped everything and rushed out of
the camp. Most were gone for several days, a week or more; and then gradually,
one-by-one, they wandered back and were accounted for. It was the strangest
thing — soldiers just fled the camp and went into Manila and got drunk and
All told, I was in the Philippines for about a year. We had been scheduled to
go to Japan for the expected invasion, but we were redirected to Korea, where I
filled somewhat the same role in Seoul as I had in Manila. The Japanese had
Sort of the Governor”
occupied Korea for forty years, and they owned and controlled everything.
When the war ended and the Japanese left, the Koreans were totally unprepared
for independence, so our unit moved in and set up a transition government. I
was a part of that until my discharge in the summer of 1946.
We were discharged from service in those days based on points — they would
calculate how many you had, and when you reached a certain number you were
discharged. I had to wait about a year after the war was over; there were times
when I wondered if I would ever get out. [laughter] Still, even though it was a
much longer period than I would have liked, I consider the four years that I
spent in the service the most valuable four years of my life. Of course, that’s
easy for me to say: I wasn’t killed or injured, and any deprivations that I suffered
turned out to be in my own best interest.
There were so many things you had to learn in order to survive the experi¬
ence. Service in the military gives people a chance to grow up; it also tests
people individually. Somebody would say, “Today we go on a fifteen-mile hike,
and you’re carrying a pack of forty pounds.” There was no way! Then, much to
your amazement, you did it. It just about killed you, but you did it. You had to
learn to share and to endure, and to relate to the kind of people you had never
met or been around before, both racial and otherwise. You had to develop an
approach to life that enabled you to cope, even when the situation was very
bad. No matter how frightened you were, you had to accept that things were
probably going to get better; and you had no control over anything, anyway!
I came out of the service a different man — more mature, more understand¬
ing of the other person’s point of view. I had learned how to handle people.
When I first went in, I was reluctant to take orders from sergeants who I thought
probably couldn’t even read or write. We get up at five o’clock in the morning,
do this or do that, and I’m thinking, “Who is this son-of-a-bitch to tell me what
to do?” I’d never been able to handle authority well anyway, but I had to learn
that those virtual illiterates had a role. They could be very good at what they
did; maybe a lot better than me, even though I considered myself superior in
background and education. I was quite young when I went in, and I had a lot to
Since the war, I’ve always believed that compulsory military service is a good
idea. Some veterans complain about their war experiences, how terrible they
were — and, I am sure they were for many people — but the generation that
came out of World War II was one of the most productive that this country has
ever seen. We felt we had lost time, so we had to hurry. After we got home, we
set out to accomplish things fast.
Following his discharge, Grant Sawyer resumed his law studies while working in the
Washington office of Senator Patrick McCarran. He began practicing law in Elko,
Nevada, in 1948, and immediately became active in Democratic Party politics.
Sawyer successfully ran for district attorney in 1950, and in 1959 was elected to the
first of two terms as Nevada’s governor. Today he is a senior partner in Lionel Sawyer
& Collins, Nevada’s largest law firm.
• • •
All Gone the Moment I Entered Buchenwald”
fud Allen was born in Beloit, Wisconsin in
1917. After earning a degree in Sociology
from Beloit College in 1939, he joined United
Press International as a re-write man. Drafted
in March, 1941, he eventually went to OCS
and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the
Quartermaster Corps. Allens experience with
UPI led to an assignment as a public rela¬
tions officer, and he served in this and re¬
lated capacities throughout the war. By late
1944 he was with the 106th Infantry Divi¬
sion of the 1st Army, bivouacked in a house
in St. Vith, Belgium. He was about to expe¬
rience the Battle of the Bulge:
D ECEMBER 16, early in the morning I heard a huge explosion. I had no
idea what it was, and I leapt out of bed and looked and there was a big
crater in our back yard. Then there was another explosion, and I thought, “My
God, what’s going on here?” I got dressed and hurried over to Headquarters
Company, and they were as confused as we were. They had lost radio contact
with two regiments in the division — they were gone, no contact, and we had
no idea what had happened. A third regiment had retreated and was helping
guard the entrance to St. Vith.
All day long it was total confusion. I was sent to 1st Army headquarters to try
to get some information. I carried a letter from a general, and I felt relieved to
get away from St. Vith. As I was driving to headquarters down a narrow road, I
heard an explosion behind a farmhouse. This was supposed to be a safe area, so
I turned off the road and went into the back yard to investigate, and there was
what was left of a swing and a little girl about four years old. There was no one
else there. She was limp like a rag doll — the concussion from the explosions
had shattered just about every bone in her body. She had been killed by a V-l
“buzz bomb” that had strayed off course. Seeing this dead child .... All the
great minds and scientists had created this weapon to go down and kill a little
Belgian girl in her swing. What was mankind doing? I was very depressed.
(V-ls were self-propelled flying bombs that exploded either on impact or in
the air. They were driven by crude, very noisy pulse jets, and the terrifying
thing about them was that they could be ten miles away and sound like they
were right over your head. Suddenly, the jet would cut off; then there was an
eight to ten second interval while you waited for the bomb to plunge to earth
and explode. They had tremendous psychological effect, both because of the
horrific sound they made, and because when one went silent your life was on
hold until you heard the explosion.)
I got back in the jeep and drove on to headquarters. There I learned that the
Germans had parachuted in men who spoke English like Americans and were
dressed as American soldiers. They had set up checkpoints along the roads, and
as Americans would stop at these checkpoints in trucks and jeeps, the Germans
would gun them down and kill them. I was lucky that every check point I had
hit was legitimate, but you couldn’t trust anybody.
I got back to my unit before nightfall. The general had decided that we were
going to retreat to a town called Vielsalm, which is about ten miles from St.
Vith. That night we moved out in a convoy and the sky was lighted with explo¬
sions all around us. We ended up in a deserted Belgian military camp, where
about all we could do was sit and wait to see what was going to happen to us.
For the next two days we just huddled and waited, because we weren’t really
combat soldiers; we were headquarters soldiers. We just waited to learn our
destiny, and we expected to be captured.
Fortunately, we were rescued by the 82nd Airborne, who came in through
the flank and made an opening that let us get out of the combat area. I was safe,
but I had lost personal friends that were captured or killed — each was an
individual, each one had a family and a dream of a future. As we later learned,
our division had suffered the biggest loss of any division in American military
history: in twenty-four hours we lost nine thousand men either captured, killed
or wounded, leaving us as no military threat to the Germans.
This was the Wehrmacht’s last gasp in the west. Their destination was the
Belgian coast, their objective being to split the Allied forces. Germany strategy
was to keep moving so fast that before we could destroy our fuel dumps they
would capture them and refuel their tanks. But they were thrown off from the
. . . All Gone the Moment I Entered Buchenwald”
very start when it took two days for them to capture St. Vith, which sat astride
a lot of alternate roadway networks — it was a key to their traffic flow. That
held up things long enough for our troops to destroy the fuel dumps, so their
tanks ran out of fuel.
They had also counted on a nine-day fog projection, where we wouldn’t be
able to send our bombers up because there was no visibility. And I remember
that on the 24th, Christmas Eve, the sky lifted and the sun came out, and there
had to be thousands of planes in the air coming over from England. It was the
greatest Christmas present ever to see them. They absolutely wiped out the
German tanks, which were sitting ducks, most of them stalled with no fuel.
That took the last gasp out of the Germans. From then on it was retreating into
Germany until they surrendered.
Because our division was destroyed, I was reassigned to the 1st Army press
camp. I couldn’t adjust to the war correspondents. When we had our briefings,
if it had been a slow day for casualties, they were disappointed — they knew
that their bylines and their front-page stories were going to get more attention
when there were higher casualties. Ernie Pyle was the only one of the group
who actually went to the front lines and did stories at the risk of his own life,
and the other correspondents resented him for making them look less than
brave, [laughter] I had no respect for most of the correspondents. The war to
them was their ride to fame — they were going to do books and speaking tours
and make a lot of money and get promoted as correspondents when the war was
over. To them the war their personal stage. The more active the theatre, the
better for them.
We kept moving into Germany, across the Remagen Bridge and through
Cologne. Finally, one night we came to a town called Weimar, the birthplace of
the German democracy prior to Hitler. It was untouched because the Germans
had not offered any resistance there. I had been up for thirty-six hours, and I
was dead tired and got to my room after midnight. Early in the morning there
was a knock at my door. There stood two war correspondents who wanted me
to drive them out to a nearby concentration camp named Buchenwald. I knew
nothing about it, and all I wanted to do was sleep; but I was responsible for
transporting correspondents to their requested assignments. I told them I’d be
with them as soon as I could get dressed.
It was April, and I remember driving out through a beautiful German forest;
absolutely breathtaking. It was one of those rare spring days that was probably
about seventy degrees. I had survived, and I was going to go home and have a
career and a family, and I was just full of myself. I hadn’t felt that good since
arriving overseas. We finally came to the stockade, which looked like something
out of a Western movie. Over the gate there was a sign that said, “Our Father-
land, Right or Wrong.” We drove through the gate, and .... Usually you see
something or you hear something or you smell something; your senses are not
all attacked at once. At Buchenwald mine were. I heard the moaning of the
dying, and I saw naked bodies piled up like logs: rotting bodies. The odor of
death totally encompassed everything.
Up to then I had thought that war was ridiculous: “I’m not mad at anybody;
why am I here?” But this was so inhumane, so beyond anything I had thought
one human being could do to another that I felt guilty about being a member
of the human race. For the first time I knew why I was there, and why the rest
of us were there, and I was ashamed of my thoughts and actions up to this
I had treated the whole war as if it was just an imposition and inconvenience
to me; all I had thought was that it had taken five years out of my life. I was
going to have to start all over again, and I’d never make up those five years. That
was all gone the moment I entered Buchenwald. I had to share this with some¬
one, and the closest people I could share this with were my parents: “I’m not
going to be the same person who left home when I get back, and I’m not going
to be tolerant of prejudice. Things which I took for granted are going to irritate
me now.” I tried to put it down on paper. I wrote letter after letter, but you can’t
experience something like that and transfer it to another person.
Overnight, I was a totally different person, and the loneliest feeling you can
experience is to become a stranger to yourself. You don’t know who you are, and
you’ve got to go out at twenty-eight years of age and try to find out. You’ve been
some other person all these years, and now you can’t be that person any more.
Following his discharge from the Army, Jud Allen worked in Hollywood for three
years as a publicist. He then taught Journalism at Beloit College for a year before
becoming the chief executive of the local Chamber of Commerce. After serving for
several years in a similar capacity in Redwood City, California, Allen became the
administrative chief of the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce in 1959, retiring as
its president in 1983. He served on the Reno City Council from 1988 to 1992, and
is currently president of the Reno Police Athletic League and a member of the Ne¬
vada State Ethics Commission.
“We Weren’t Taking Any Prisoners, and
Neither Were They”
Richard Sorenson was born on August 28,
1924 in Anoka, Minnesota. His father was a
machinist and his mother a homemaker. When
the war started, he wanted to go into the ser¬
vice and*defend his country, ” but he was only
a junior in high school and his parents would
not sign the papers to permit him to enlist.
Sorenson turned eighteen during his senior
year, and in December, 1942, just after the
football season ended, he joined the Marines,
choosing that branch because he would “get
into action faster. ” He never imagined just
how much action he would see:
A FTER BASIC TRAINING I was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 24th
Regiment, 4th Marine Division. We trained from the end of February,
1943, until we left for combat on January 13th of 1944, and our training was
very extensive. We First trained as a platoon of three machine gun squads, and
then we trained with infantry companies which we were supporting — each
machine gun squad was assigned to a platoon of infantry. We were in line,
Firing over the heads of the troops at night. During the day we’d set up our
machine guns by digging a gun emplacement and putting the machine gun in
there, and then making out what they called a range card. On a 180 degree fan
from your gun, you’d mark every tree, every mound, every feature of the ter¬
rain. Then you would memorize the exact location of each feature so that you
knew the number of clicks of deflection and elevation required to train your
gun on it. We also memorized the clicks of elevation to Fire over mounds or
rises so that if any enemy troops were coming in at any sector, you could cover
them at night.
We had a nine-man squad. The positions were gunner, assistant gunner, third
man, and then six men behind them who carried ammo. Each half hour, you
rotated — the gunman moved back to the ninth man position, and everybody
else moved up one. That way everybody learned everybody else’s job, so that in
combat, when one of the squad got wounded or killed, everybody knew what
his job was and could rotate into it and perform it.
In combat, people get killed. This is drilled into you; it’s common knowl¬
edge; but you always feel that it’s going to be somebody else and not you. We
were trained to kill and destroy, because that’s the only purpose of the military
in wartime. As gloomy as it may be, it’s a fact of life. We were told “It’s either
you or the enemy, and make damn sure it’s the enemy that dies.” As our ser¬
geant once said, “Any fool can die for his country, but you’re going to live for
yours.” That’s the attitude we had — we weren’t going to die; it was the enemy
that was going to die.
In January, 1944, we boarded a ship and sailed to Hawaii, where we stayed
overnight. We took on fresh fruit, and we took on fuel, and then the next
morning we pulled out to rendezvous with the rest of an invasion force. In
addition to our Marine division they’d brought in the Army’s Seventh Infantry
Division. The task force was made up of aircraft carriers, six battlewagons, I
don’t know how many cruisers, and a whole host of destroyers. And we were
right in the center of the convoy.
The rumor was we were headed for Truk, which would have been a pretty
bloody battle. Truk was north of the Marshall Islands, and it was well fortified
by the Japanese, in an area that we had bombed till there was hardly anything
left of it. But the high command had decided we should go right into the center
of the Marshall Islands. There were a lot of objections, even from Washington,
because we could literally be cut off there, since other fortified islands were
further to the east.
We were about four days out when an officer called our platoon together. It
was then that we learned we would be landing at Kwajalein, on Namur island.
They took us up where they had a mock-up of the island, and showed us where
each unit was going to land. We were told we would be in the first wave, land¬
ing just left of the pier, and we were told what our objective was going to be.
The mock-up showed all the pill boxes and the blockhouses, emplacements,
tank traps, and all the obstacles that we would run into. It also showed the roads
that were on the island, although you couldn’t find them after the battle started
— you just followed the shell fire and the destruction.
We Weren’t Taking Any Prisoners, and Neither Were They”
That night it was raining and we were sitting on the deck talking, and one of
the guys said, “Well, when we land and we get into fighting, what happens if a
grenade comes into our hole?”
I said, “Somebody will have to take it, because we’ve got to keep that gun in
action.” (The important thing, as far as our squad was concerned, was to keep
that gun operating because we were in support of the infantry.)
One of the guys said, “You shouldn’t talk about that!” But lo and behold, the
next day that’s just what happened!
On the morning of the landing we knew exactly where we would land, what
our objective was, when we were expected to reach it, and what kind of oppo¬
sition we would get. LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks) had already landed troops at
five small islands off shore. Only one was occupied, and it was only occupied by
a couple of squads of Japanese who offered practically no resistance. Our artil¬
lery batteries had set up there to give us support for our landing. In addition,
the battlewagons had been shelling the island for about three days, and the
cruisers and destroyers had moved in, and they were giving us fire support.
Aboard ship we were getting our guns and ammunition ready, and they is¬
sued us machetes and gas masks and all these things. We were also issued our
live grenades — six grenades and a hundred-and-sixty rounds of ammunition.
Fully loaded, we carried about eighty pounds of equipment on us, not counting
the weight of the ammunition boxes for the machine gun.
Once inside the lagoon we set up on the weather deck, because they didn’t
have room for us below. We’re sitting there going over our objective, where we
were going to land, and all these sorts of things, but nothing is happening. In
taking the artillery to the little islands some of the landing craft got lost coming
back to their mother ships, and it delayed our going in to the beach. Finally we
disembarked into the LSTs; instead of landing at eight o’clock, we didn’t land
We hit the beach and had gone in about a hundred yards, and I was in a hole
with another guy. We were spread out: the gun was up ahead and we were
coming up with the ammo. We were leaning against the east side of this big
crater made by a sixteen-inch shell from a battleship, when all of a sudden the
earth just shook (I thought it was an earthquake), and then there was a tremen¬
dous blast. A Japanese blockhouse had been attacked by E Company, which
didn’t know that the blockhouse was filled with torpedo warheads — thousands
and thousands of pounds of high explosives. They threw a satchel charge up
against the blockhouse and blew a hole in, and then threw another charge
through the hole. She went up, and it looked like the whole island .... Pieces
of concrete blew back and out, and sailors were wounded on the decks of the
ships. Everything turned black with all the smoke and debris and concrete fall¬
ing down. If we had been on the other side of our hole, we would have been
buried in big chunks of concrete. The explosion practically wiped out E Com¬
pany; they had about eighty percent casualties.
I was in the 3rd Battalion, which moved up and got up ahead. The regimen¬
tal commander ordered us to pull back and line up with the 2nd Battalion so
that we were not ahead of them, because sometimes units fire into their own
troops. But we didn’t all get the word. Thirty-six of us were still up there fight¬
ing when it got dark. The Navy sent up flares all night long to light up the
battlefield. When one went up, you would freeze so the Japanese couldn’t pick
you out and shoot you, and then you would move again when it burned out.
This went on all night.
The next morning, as the sun comes up, we find that we’re completely sur¬
rounded. Every direction we look, there are Japanese, [laughter] We started
killing them as fast as we could, and they were shooting at us, and we ended up
with about eighteen wounded men in our hole. We were practically out of
ammunition, only had a few grenades with us, and we were catching mortar
fire, machine gun fire, and rifle fire from our own troops back on the line, who
were firing in because they didn’t know we were there to stop the attack. Then
a grenade was thrown into our hole.
I didn’t see it come in. Somebody yelled “grenade!” and I turned around and
there it was. It was closest to me, so I went down on it. I remember it going off
— it was like somebody was lifting me in the air. I went up, and I felt that I was
just sitting in the air and then coming down, boom! I looked over, and nobody
else was hit — they had all flattened out, you know.
And then I felt sick to my stomach. I knew I was wounded, but the shock
didn’t register in my brain right away — the pain is so great that your brain cuts
it off. You just know that you’re hit and you get this sick feeling, at first in your
stomach. Or at least I did. But I was conscious, and I handed three grenades
over to one of the guys and took off my ammunition belt and then I just laid
down. Somebody said, “You need to get away from here.” So I crawled back to
another hole and laid there, and a corpsman came over and put stuff on my
“We Weren’t Taking Any Prisoners, and Neither Were They”
wounds and tied off the artery in my leg. I put my arm up, and it was nothing
but blood and pieces of skin, and the blood came streaming down into my eyes
and ran down to the lower part of my body. The way the corpsman was looking
at me just said, “Boy, you’re not going to be around long.”
The other guys came by and looked at me. I said, “I need a cigarette.” So one
of the guys got out a cigarette and lit it.
And I said, “God, I’m thirsty. I need some water.”
The corpsman said, “Oh, no! No water. You’ve got a stomach wound and
you can’t have any water.” I was dying of thirst. I had two canteens of water
with me, but I hadn’t had time to drink any — all during that night and every¬
thing, I hadn’t taken a drink . .. and when you’re losing blood you get terribly
thirsty, because you’re losing bodily fluids.
The corpsman gave me a shot of morphine, and I started passing out, com¬
ing to, and passing out. That was just the start of the attack, and I remember
thinking, “Geez, I hope the Japs don’t get in on us, because then I’m a dead
man. I have nothing to fight back with — no gun or ammunition.” (If I had
not fallen on that grenade, there would have been many other Marines wounded
there in that hole; and if we had been overrun, the Japs would have slit our
throats or shot us. We weren’t taking any prisoners and neither were they.)
Then they carried me out. We had just gotten out of the hole when a sniper
hit one of the litter carriers. (We Marines used our bandsmen as litter carriers,
and we lost a lot of bandsmen in the war.) Another fellow ran up and grabbed
me. He took me down to the beach, and they put me on a landing craft. I
looked over and here was a fellow from my platoon, Bob White. His whole arm
was gone, cut off right below his shoulder. He had a tourniquet around it to
stop the blood — he was bleeding very bad. I remember looking at him and he
looked at me, and we both shook our heads. But I still didn’t feel I was going to
die. The next thing I remember is they were hoisting me up alongside the ship
with a boom. My helmet came off, and I kept telling them that I needed it. I
was in shock by then, I’m sure. They swung me up onto a Liberty ship, a troop
carrier, and I blacked out.
I was taken to the officers’ wardroom, which they had made into an operat¬
ing room. Two ship’s doctors there saw all the seriously wounded Marines who
were supposed to be taken out to the hospital ship. Next thing I remember was
waking up and looking at these doctors who had just finished taking shrapnel
out of me and pumping blood into me — three pints of whole blood and two
of plasma. I said, “Doctors, I want to thank you for saving my life.” Then I
passed out again.
I don’t remember anything more for about three days. Then a corpsman
came around, and he said, “You know, I was there with the doctors assisting the
operation. When we looked at you we wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for your
life.” He couldn’t even get my pulse — he couldn’t find a vein because I’d lost so
We were in the harbor until the twelfth of February. During all that time I
couldn’t get up; I was lying there and they had the wounds open and I got
gangrene infection. I knew that I was draining, and they had several tubes
running out of me because my urethra was completely torn up. I was hit in the
right leg and upper thigh, in the right arm, under the ankle, in the stomach and
intestines . . . among other places. I smelled terrible — I could smell these
wounds, and they were all green. My arm was green where the wound was laid
open to the bone. They took eleven pieces of shrapnel out of me, they said.
Finally they took us wounded men off the ship, and the Navy had ambu¬
lances waiting for us. I had nothing covering me but bandages and a blanket,
and I remember this nurse coming up. She was going to take the blanket off,
and I wouldn’t let go of that blanket. She said, “Son, there isn’t anything you got
that I haven’t seen. Let go.” So I let go of it because she was an officer and I’m
just a private. You do what the officers say. [laughter] She looked at my wounds
and said, “Take this man to urology.” Over I went.
Well, the urologist was Dr. Davidson, I’ll never forget. (Tremendous. He was
a Navy commander and had been years in urology.) “Buddy,” he said, “we’re
going to have a difficult time. You’re going to have to go through a series of
operations. I don’t know whether we’re going to be successful or not because we
have to rebuild your urinary canal completely.”
After all the shrapnel had been cut out of me and my wounds had healed to
the point where I could walk, I was sent back to the Seattle Navy Hospital.
There I endured a protracted series of operations on my bladder. After four
months or so I was getting around all right, so I went on a work detail, because
unless you were working you couldn’t get liberty. I was supervising the digging
up of shut-off valves for the water mains. We had one shovel and one pick, and
a four or five man crew. I was in charge of four guys — two working and two
who sat down, [laughter] I was doing that when the commanding general came
around with the commanding officer of the hospital. He said, “What are you
doing this for?”
“We Weren’t Taking Any Prisoners, and Neither Were They’
I said, “To earn liberty sir.”
He says, “Well, you don’t have to do that anymore. You got open gate liberty
and you’re no longer a private. You’re a PFC.” They notified me that I was to
receive the Medal of Honor, but they told me I couldn’t say anything to any¬
body, not even my parents.
Ten days before I was to be decorated I was called in to talk with Captain
John T. Boone. He had received the Medal of Honor in World War I, having
gone out under fire and brought back wounded Marines. He sat me down and
talked to me for a good two hours, and he told me that I was going to get all
kinds of publicity and people were going to make a big fuss over me. “You’re
going to be put on a pedestal,” he said. “Just remember that whatever you do,
people are going to make note of it. You can’t go out and have a good time
without being very conscious of what you’re doing, what you’re saying, and
everything else. You’re no longer an ordinary private citizen.” He said, “You’re
going to be out on war bond rallies and all kinds of thing, but the day will come
when it will be all over with, and that’s it. So don’t think you’re something, that
you’re real great, because it doesn’t last that long.”
I remembered what Captain Boone said and I never forgot it; and what he
said was absolutely right. There was a period of time of being a hero. I was
awarded the Medal of Honor at Seattle Naval Hospital on July 19, 1944, and
shortly after that I returned home to Minneapolis. There I was honored with a
parade and gifts and a heartwarming celebration. But I didn’t think I had done
anything that great. People aren’t thinking about getting medals in combat. I
fought and I was wounded, and that was it. I remember an admiral coming
around to me while I lay in the hospital, and he gave me the Purple Heart, and
I thought that was really something! I knew what the Medal of Honor was, but
I never thought that in any way, shape, or form I would get that kind of a
The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest award, and very few were given
out in World War II. It started as the only medal in the Civil War — about two
thousand of them were given out. But as the military added more medals, the
Medal of Honor remained at the top of the pyramid and the other medals
below it take lesser deeds to receive. The Medal of Honor is not something that
anybody goes out to achieve, because the odds are that you won’t live to receive
it — only about one out of every four men who are awarded the Medal lives to
There were a lot of other deeds of valor in World War II that went unnoticed
and unrecorded. Not all the men that deserved recognition got it, because often
there were no survivors to report their deeds. I was a lucky one.
Richard Sorenson has received widespread recognition for the act of heroism for
which he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Following the war he embarked on a
career in Veterans Services which lasted thirty-five years and saw him rise to the rank
of Regional Office Director. Sorenson retired in 1985 and lives in Reno.
Algiers, 30, 31
Allen, Jud, 171-174
American Red Cross, 30, 34, 52, 54,
Anderson Air Force Base. See North
Anderson, Zelda (nee Webb), 81-85
Anzio, 108, 162
Arc d’Triomphe, 155
Arnold, General, 131
Aspenwall, Sergeant “Chief,” 135
Atlantic City, 30
Auld, Philip, 47-48, 49
Baltimore, Maryland, 81
Bataan, 58-60, 91
Becker, Clarence, 117-124
Beecher, Curtis, 64-65
Bilibid Prison, 65-67
Blake, Bill, 25
Bledsoe, Dan, 23
Boone, John T., 181
Bradley, General, 155-156
Buchenwald concentration camp,
Bulge, Battle of the, 17, 158, 171-173
Bunker Hill, 3
Cabcaben Air Field, 59-60
California Institute of Technology, 22
Calloway, Cab, 84
Camp Barkley, 114
Camp Breckenridge, 84
Camp Fannin, 167
Camp Plale, 142-143
Camp Lee, 167
Camp Mathews, 72
Camp O’Donnell, 63
Camp Pendleton, 72-73, 78
Camp Roberts, 134
Camp Swift, 143
Camp Wolters, 114
Carroll Summit, 142
Carter, Jimmy, 132
Casablanca, 30, 31
Cassino, 108. See also Monte Cassino
Chadwell, Chad, 113
Chadwell, Mary (nee Nishiguchi), 113,
China Sea, 6
Clark Field, 91
Clark, Mark, 40
Clearfield, Utah, 3
Cochran, Jacqueline, 128-129
Colmar Pocket, 164
Conical Hills, 138
Corpus Christie, Texas, 1, 26
Corregidor, 6, 92
Corum, Charlie, 47
Count Basie, 84
Craig, Charles, 47-48, 49, 56
Curtis, Mark, Sr., 43-56
Dasher, Benedict J., 37-42
Davidson, Dr., 180
D-day, 13-15, 38-39, 131
de Gaulle, General, 155-156
Des Moines, Iowa, 82
Disney, Walt, 130
Dodson, Bill, 8
Dondero, Don, 1-11
Duncan, Gregor, 29-35
Earhart, Amelia, 125, 132
Echeverria, Pete, 14
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 45, 131,
Ellington, Duke, 84
Ely, Nevada, 22-26
Empress of Australia, 102
Enola Gay, 123
Etchemendy, Willie, 14
Evans, Gene, 133-140
Fallon, Nevada, 27-28
Farr, Francis William, 147-159
Ford, Gene, 146
Formosa (now Taiwan), 90, 97
Fort Benning, 13, 141
Fort Breckenridge, 84
Fort Des Moines, 81
Fort Douglas, 141, 147
Fort Eustis, 83
Fort Knox, 84
Fort McClellan, 13, 83, 148-150
Fort Ord, 111-112, 113-114, 134
Francovich, Gene, 13
Garda, Lake, 144-145
Garrett, Benny, 25
Gerlach, Nevada, 111, 113
Goldwater, Barry, 132
Goodhue, Janice Duncan, 29-35
Gray, Les, 141
Greenville, South Carolina, 89
Greenwood, Mississippi, 130-131
Guam, 78, 118-120, 123
Hall, Harry, 91, 98
Hall, Vic, 87
Hansell, “Possum,” 118
Harmon Field, 119
Harton, Charles, 71-79
Hart, Warren, 141
Hawaii, 73, 76
Hines, Earl, 84
Hiroshima, 78, 98-100, 123-124
Hitler, Adolf, 154
Hobson, Pick, 159
Hohn, Hazel (nee Stamper), 125-132
Horne, Lena, 84
Huertgen Forest, 16-17, 157
Iwo Jima, 76, 78, 79
Jefferson Barracks, 43
Johnson Chevrolet (Reno), 145-146
Johnson, Marsh, 145
Kenton, Stan, 84
Knozek, Chester, 5, 6
Kromberg, Marty, 23
Kurtenbach, Ken, 52, 55
Lancaster, John C., Jr., 141-146
LeMay, Curtis, 118-119, 122, 123
Letterman General Hospital, 111-112
Levenberg, Ralph, 59-69
Lindbergh, Anne, 125
Litchfield, Alabama, 101-102
Llewellyn, Richard, 31-32
Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, 126, 127
Love, Nancy, 127
Lunsford, Jimmy, 84
Luzon, 6, 8, 90-91, 95, 97. See also
MacArthur, Douglas A., 90-92
MacDill Field, 117-118
McNair, General, 15, 152
Manila (Bay), 5-6, 57-67, 92-93, 95,
Marpi Point, 74, 75
Marshall Islands, 73, 176-178.
See also Eniwetok
Mastrovich, Nick, 14
Mather Field, 89
Mauldin, Bill, 29
Maui, 73, 78
Meadows, Tech Sergeant, 148
Military Intelligence Language
Miller, George, 46
Mindoro, 8-10, 90-92, 93, 95
Monte Cassino, 162. See also Cassino
Mooney, Pat, 142
Mount Rose (Nevada), 141-142
Mussolini, Benito, 144-145
Nagasaki, 78, 98-100, 123-124
Nagoya, 68, 122, 123
Nakajima, Sergeant, 114
Namur island, 176-178
Nellis Air Force Base, 43
Newark airport (New Jersey), 125, 126
New York City, 132
Nichols Field, 57-58
Nishiguchi, Masaichi, 111,112-113, 114
Nishiguchi, Roy, 111-115
Nishiguchi, Yaeno (nee Kawaguchi), 111,
North Field, 119-120
Okinawa, 114, 138, 139
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 89
Omaha Beach, 150-151. See also D-day
Oppio, Santino, 161-165
Oran, 102-103, 107
Parker, James “Swede,” 134-135, 137
Patrick, Ted, 141
Patton, George, 103-104
Pearl Harbor, 73, 76, 78
Philippine Civil Affairs Unit (PCAU), 168
Piazzo, Link, 87-100
Po River, 144
Po Valley, 144
Powell, Larry, 112
Pyle, Ernie, 173
Pyramid Lake (Nevada), 27-28
Queen Elizabeth-, 101
Quilici, Deane, 14
Ralf, Earl W„ 101-110
Ramsey, Keston, 141.
Recanzone, Mario, 13
Rice, Gordon, 19
Romulus, Michigan, 129
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 134
Ryder, General, 107
Saint Lo, 15, 152
St. Vith, 171-172, 173
Saipan, 3, 118-121, 73,74, 75
Salerno Beach, 108
Salina, Kansas, 118, 120
Salmon, Warren, 14
San Francisco, California, 10
Sawyer, Grant, 167-170
Scrugham, Jim, 141
Seattle Naval Hospital, 180-181
Sicily, 107, 161-162
Smith, Arthur M., Jr., 21-28
Snebley, Dexter, 46
Sorenson, Richard, 175-182
S.S. Manhattan , 150
S.S. Monterey, 30
Stalag 7A, 49-55
Stars and Stripes, 31 -32
Stockton, California, 88
Streeter, Jack, 13-20, 149-150
Sweetwater, Texas, 127
Taiwan (formerly Formosa), 68
Thompson, C. T., 93-95, 98
Throckmorton, Colonel, 82-83
Tinian, 73, 75, 123
Tokyo, 122, 123
Tokyo Rose, 134
Tom, Sim, 23
Tonopah, Nevada, 25
Tunis, 105-106, 110
Urban, Major, 128
USS Marine Fox, 145
U.S.S. Ranger, 2
VE Day, 19
Volturno River, 162, 165
Wagner, Boyd “Buzz,” 58
Washington State College (Pullman), 133-
Wayne, Paul, 113
Western Pacific Railroad, 111, 113
White, Bob, 179
Williams, Ben, 27
Young, Cliff, 14
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